Short Film Review: Lemongrass Girl (2021)

“Piano, Piano! …it looks like it’s going to rain. Could you ask Jeanne to plant the lemongrass?” Jeanne is, of course, hesitant. Why should she be the one to do that? Why not the others? Why not the men?

As a production manager, and a female one at that, Piano arguably has one of the most difficult tasks to undertake in all humanity: come rain or shine, filming must go on smoothly. Her role entails ensuring the wellbeing of all crew members on set and maintaining the relative humidity of the filming site as well. It’s an ultimatum tied up in impossibilities, conditions and factors all beyond her control. Far from a god, Piano can’t cajole the weather into calm alone. She dashes over at the slightest mention of her name, shoulders the terrible burden of asking, near begging her other female coworkers: Can you plant the lemongrass?

While superstitions and rituals — ranging from the relatively tame to downright absurd — exist among people of all cultures, races and religions today, the act of planting lemongrass upside down by a virginal woman to prevent the onset of rain feels more aged folktale than modern habit. Yet this custom is still widely practiced in many parts of Thailand, to the (presumable) shame of many ex-virgins and virgins alike. Though the specificity is intriguing, its origins are far less so. Sexism in spirituality has existed since the beginning of the world, as women are evangelised into both Madonna and magical beast.

While the days of the Salem witch trials are long gone, ideas of the occult are still frequently associated with feminine energies (Male and non-binary witches do not exist in our world, apparently, but even they are hardly as vilified as female witches) today. Women are moulded into the likes of villain, mother, love interest etc., but are very rarely lauded as heroes —unless they conform to masculine standards of strength. But who needs Superman or Captain Marvel when your average lady can pretty much do it all: healing, cleaning, cooking, cursing, you name it.

On the film set, when tensions are running high and the stress of incoming rain is imminent, being a woman is a different kind of witch trial altogether. While this thankfully doesn’t involve killing, it still feels like social suicide. Damned if a virgin, and damned if not. The utter inappropriateness of the situation doesn’t seem to occur to anyone at all, which is a surprise given the number of female coworkers there are. They make jokes about it, and to them, the topic probably occupies the same category of small talk as to how’s your day and the weather. Only Jeanne and Piano are visibly uncomfortable. Then again, even if the rest of the women are, we’ll never know.

Jeanne has probably suffered this shame a thousand times over. She does not want to — and cannot — now. "Because it'll rain." Her features are gentle, further softened by the curve of her glasses and the shy tilt of her head downwards. The crop of her bangs barely brush her eyebrows, the rest of her hair falling around chin-length. Her youthful adolescence seems to suggest her naiveté, but she is far from, so she does not waver. The answer isn’t a hard, defiant no, but a suggestion, “I really don't think I should. It's better if someone else does it."

So what is Piano to do? She could try to marry the task off to someone else, but all her attempts have only ended up with empty hands, and the rain is still on its way. And will likely still rain, even if she miraculously finds someone — but which woman would consent to that, the status of her (non-)virginity now public news? Whether or not it is genuinely shameful is an entirely different matter, but the double standards still exist. Women are questioned, their bodies held up to the light. The men remain maddeningly opaque. Their bodies, hunched over a mutiny of trinkets, propped up by chairs. Their bodies, spotlit by the lights.

Their bodies, theirs.

While the movie largely revolves around the absurdity of this folk-ritual and the inherent sexism it connotes, it shies away from being on the too side of too preachy because of how gently the dialogue is weaved into arcs, revealing only what is essential. Each fact is gently spooned over, told entirely in still shorts and snippets of conversation. Pom Bunsermvicha intersperses carefully crafted moments with moody atmospheric shots, building up to a grand reveal: will it rain?

Piano, too, is a bumbling, slightly awkward, but entirely likeable character. So are the rest of the cast, even as they're mostly relegated to the sidelines — but it's the little moments of camaraderie and friendly ribbing that really make the bulk of the film. Short and sweet, with an even sweeter payoff. 


Lemongrass Girl was shown as part of the Ammodo Tiger Short Competition of the International Film Festival of Rotterdam. Feel free to catch out the teaser on Vimeo right here.

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