Friday, July 13, 2018

NYAFF ’18: Sad Beauty

It is like a Thai version of Beaches, at least as far as we know. However, life is more intense and somewhat stranger in Thailand. So is death. Yo will experience that reality first-hand when she is forced to confront her best friend’s mortality in Bongkod Bencharongkul’s Sad Beauty (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival.

Yo’s career has hit the skids after her latest social media meltdown, so like always, she relies on Pim, her lifelong best friend and unpaid assistant to keep her spirits up. Despite Yo’s shallowness, their friendship is real. However, she has trouble being the supportive one for a change when Pim is suddenly diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Still, she gives it a go for a while, until a violent incident sends her binging down a spiral of self-medication and hedonistic oblivion. Frankly, she has a right to be a little freaked, but Pim will still need her.

If you want to learn how to dispose of a body in Thailand, Sad Beauty definitely offers an eye-opening tutorial. Nevertheless, the film is way more consistent, both in terms of tone and theme then it maybe sounds. This is an unflinching honest depiction of a female friendship and its built-in inequalities. It definitely feels very true to life and the closing post-script from thesp-turned-director Bencharongkul openly invites viewers to assume it is based on her own experiences.

Florence Faivre (recurring on both The Expanse and Agents of SHIELD) is indeed a sad beauty, a hot mess, and a fitting analog for Bencharongkul. At times she brings to mind the exquisite sadness of Shu Qi in Millennium Mambo, but other times it is just hard to watch her self-indulgence and self-destructiveness.

Although it is the quiet, deferential role, Pakkawadee Pengsuwan is absolutely devastating as Pim. Our hearts ache for her, but she is no mere movie-of-the-week cancer patient. She is a complicated personality, with very real fears and resentments. It is a bold performance, physically and emotionally.

Unlike buddy movie clichés, real friendship is relatively rare on screen, because it is messy, complex, and the terms are often unequal. Sad Beauty is a wise and undeniably poignant exception. Frankly, it would have been an awkward fit for past NYAFFs, but it is a worthy little film that adults will appreciate. Recommended for fans of sophisticated tear-jerkers, Sad Beauty screens tomorrow (7/14) at the SVA Theatre, as part of this year’s NYAFF.