The boldest thing about Thai film Mundane History is the title itself. How many other films contain a warning that what you are about to watch is, in fact, banal to the extreme and focusing on the boring bits of life? Although it tells the story of a paralysed man and his carer, don’t expect something heart-warming and crowd pleasing like recent French film Untouchable. Instead, prepare yourself for a mercifully short 80 minutes of staring and silence. This is definitely one for the arthouse crowd, with deliberate pacing and minimal dialogue meaning that the powerful moments are hard earned.
These moments do exist – wheelchair bound Ake sits outside and asks to linger in the rain, cherishing the sensation of it on his face. But they are so few and far between that this is often a demanding film to watch, as the drama remains mostly confined to glances and touches, but not in the more obvious ways those of us more familiar with Hollywood drama have come to get used to. DP Ming Kai Leung’s camera remains fairly unobtrusive, too, movement limited to the shakes of someone that doesn’t own a steadicam. For the most part, the camera is a distant outsider, framing things economically and refraining from any trickery.
Yet there is a moment, just under an hour into the film, where the camera begins to move through the cosmos, zooming in to the eye of a galaxy before coming to rest on a revolving, rippling star. It hints at the cosmic significance that the DVD blurb tells you about, defying the supposed mundanity of the title. It’s a quietly beautiful moment, reminiscent of Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life, and is a curious, long intermission in the quiet drama of Ake’s life. This sequence shows a film that wants to engage with something bigger than the immediate drama of a man and his carer, but will ultimately frustrate many audience members with its detached approach.
Debut director Anocha Suwichakornpong described this as her ‘maiden voyage into the troubled waters that is contemporary Thailand,’ and there, perhaps, is the problem. For audiences unfamiliar with Thai cinema and Thai culture, this is unlikely to engage in the way that is perhaps intended. As such, whilst this is one of the most unique films of the year, it’s a difficult, alienating one that struggles to make the impact it is hoping for. Taking this into account, however, the film’s final sequence is undeniably moving.
Extras: A booklet with a long critical essay by critic Carmen Gray goes some way to shedding some light on the mysteries hidden within the film, and is a valuable extra to this obfuscating work of cinema. There’s also Graceland, the short film by the same director from 2006 and an interview with her.