In "Baytong," tragedy propels a monk out of his monastery and into Thai society, with occasionally forced comedy but with often touching results as well.
By FRANK EPISALE
(Reviewed at the Hawaii International Film Festival in November 2004.)
"Baytong" tells the story of Tum (Puwarit Poompuang), a Buddhist monk in
Thailand who learns that his sister has been killed by a terrorist
bombing and, in response, travels south to console his young niece Maria
(Saranya Kruangsai). Planning to take only temporary leave of the
monastery, Tum instead finds himself drawn into the seductive pleasures
and pains of the outside world, and stays to take charge of his sister's
business, and to help raise his niece.
By Western standards, the film veers disconcertingly between broad humor
and emotional pathos, but is charming enough to carry audiences over
some of the rough transitions. The humor is mostly predictable, and
results from Tum's confrontation with technology, sexual arousal,
alcohol, fashion, etc. These moments aren't much different from what one
might expect if Adam Sandler played a displaced Buddhist monk, but
director Nonzee Nimibutr frames and paces it all with such warmth and
empathy, and Poompuang portrays Tum with so open and disarmingly simple
a performance as to make it all feel like somewhat more than it really is.
|Written and directed by: Nonzee Nimibutr.|
Cast: Phoovarit Phumpuang, Jeeranan Manojam.
Cinematography: Chankit Chamnivikaipong.
Edited by: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang.
In Thai with English subtitles.
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Hawaii Film Festival 2004|
The situation comedy and the sweetness of Tum's relationship with his
niece are juxtaposed with a constant awareness of the tensions not only
between Buddhists and Muslims in Thailand, but within the Muslim
community itself, between mainstream activists and violent extremists,
etc. Street scenes throughout the film bustle with a people going about
their lives clad in a variety of ways, dressed in traditional Muslim
garb or in Southeast Asia's version of hiphop fashion or in orange robes
that denote Buddhist monks. For the most part the interactions between
these varying groups is friendly and unguarded, but it's difficult for
the audience to forget film's opening moments, in which Maria's mother,
along with many others, is killed by a bomb left to explode on a train
full of apparently innocent civilians. There's mercifully little
editorializing on this point; instead, Nimibutr allows the camera to
stand in for Tum's gaze, registering the pain and confusion of the
situation but reserving judgment.
In its more serious moments, then, "Baytong" proves itself far more subtle
and complex than Western approaches to similar themes. Despite some
moments that translate badly for American audiences, there's much worth
taking in here, in the tolerance, the empathy and the genuinely humanist
gaze of this film.
|NOVEMBER 9, 2004|
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