From Thailand, the lovely, brimming Sud sanaeha takes us into the mountains, forest and water at the Thai-Burmese border; but it opens abruptly in Khon Kaen, in a forest-green draped clinic that in fact had been where writer-director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s parents, both medical doctors, practiced. Min, a patient, was there once before; the rash for which he was treated—an expression of his being in an unfamiliar country—has spread. Those who have brought him, Orn and Roong, argue with the doctor as to who is responsible for this outcome. But things aren’t what they seem. The middle-aged Orn, who claims that Min is her nephew, or her husband Sirote’s nephew, and Roong, Min’s girlfriend at the moment, may have deliberately manipulated Min’s condition to force this new visit to the clinic, the main objective of which is to secure a health certificate for Min so that he can get a job. Min doesn’t speak, presumably because of a sore throat, but the doctor’s examination finds no such condition. In truth, an illegal Burmese immigrant, Min speaks the little Thai he knows with an accent. Nearly halfway through the film, the opening credits roll, and Roong and Min, having borrowed Orn’s car, are off to their picnic. Shots of the road behind and in front of the car give the illusion of real time.
Vast sky and the sun-dappled forest, accompanied by sounds of insects, bring the young pair into a world with relaxed rules; walking to their destination, Min strips off his shirt and pants. An abrupt cut from Min and Roong picnicking to sex on the forest floor suggests that the lovers are the same two; but they are Orn and lover Tommy, whose motorcycle, we hear, is stolen when they are done. Wandering in search of Tommy, who is nowhere to be seen, Orn runs into Min and Roong, who has told Min that she thinks Orn is a “phony.” We recall this when we realize that Orn, stranded, is most glad for their meeting because it reunites her with her car. But everyone’s motives for everything in this film are divided, ambiguous, complex. The “phoniness” is, in truth, reality.
Moong draws Orn into the water teasingly, mockingly. Orn, alone as Moong plays with Min’s cock, dissolves into tears. She wants to have a baby; but Sirote is reluctant to do this, still traumatized by the drowning death of their child. Since Moong’s connection to Orn may go no deeper than Orn’s being someone she hired to get Min a health certificate for work, we are left to wonder whether the water-bit of Moong’s is thoughtlessness or deliberate cruelty—the former, I suspect.
This Wordsworthian film chides all attempts to simplify human nature and behavior. It spotlights the bliss of in-the-momentness, of Nature’s wonder and beauty, placing these in a context that riddles them with unexpected change: Min’s voiceover, which loses such moments to shifting circumstances over time.
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“we are left to wonder whether the water-bit of Moong’s is thoughtlessness or deliberate cruelty—the former, I suspect.” – Sopt on. I would have first thought cruelty, but it may very well be the former too…
And Dennis, what do you think is the point of Min being a Burmese?
On one level, perhaps, his being Burmese reflects, and magnifies, the extent to which others, although in their home country, feel like foreigners because unsettled, or imperfectly settled, in their lives. Can other readers suggest other possibilities?
Dennis. Thanks for the reply. This insightful review tells me that Moong herself is a political minority.
I guess what Min and Moong – the two marginals – were doing is going back in time, trying to escape all the unnatural and oppressive structures of politics and society to lose themselves in each other – to become Adam and Eve, to discard all false masks. But alas, they are never able to shed their realities.