Thursday, June 16, 2011

Blissfully Thai: Blissfully Yours

Min might as well be an untouchable. The Burmese illegal immigrant is literally uncomfortable in his own flaking skin. Yet, he will share a brief moment of respite in Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul’s Blissfully Yours, the concluding film of the Blissfully Thai film series at the Asia Society.

Despite the rash spreading across his body, Min’s kinda-sorta girlfriend Roong and an older woman named Orn smother him with attention. They take him to a doctor, but forbid him to talk, lest his accent give him away. Weary of her sweatshop job, Roong calls in sick, preferring an intimate picnic with Min. After some veiled bickering with her husband, Orn also heads into the woods for an assignation with another man. What unfolds is rather simple, yet shrouded in mystery.

Blissfully is fondly remembered for its idiosyncratic opening credits, coming forty-three minutes into the film, accompanied by vocalist Nadia’s groovy Thai version of “Summer Samba”—there’s your price of admission right there. However, Weerasethakul’s deliberate pacing and intentional ambiguity are very definitely in evidence throughout. Frankly, everything he establishes in the long pre-credit not-precisely prologue most filmmaker could get across in at least a quarter of the time. Of course, he probably could too, he simply chooses not to.

Yet, unlike the cerebral and bizarrely fantastical Uncle Boonmee, Blissfully is a considerably more accessible and direct film. Basically, it is about young lovers and the complications of life, in all its naturalistic glory. As Roong, Kanokporn Tongaram is perfectly cast, looking realistically real and down-trodden, yet still cute and endearing. While Min Oo is dutifully reserved as his namesake, Jenjira Jansuda is downright diva-esque as Orn.

Though it is often buried deep, Weerasethakul’s major works share a common mythology. Characters will often reappear in supporting roles, as is the case with Tongaram’s Roong in Boonmee. Motifs also frequently repeat, like the eroticization of nature. However, Blissfully is a much more engaging film on an emotional level, making it a far less demanding introduction to Weerasethakul’s filmography than the overrated Boonmee.

Weerasethakul’s control of the mood is masterful throughout, conveying a sense of amorous languor that obviously cannot last. Indeed, “Summer Samba” perfectly befits its preemptively nostalgic vibe. Strange and patient, Blissfully ultimately pulls in viewers receptive to its poetic inscrutability. It screens tomorrow (6/17), concluding the Asia Society’s Blissfully Thai film series.