Dir/scr: Pen-ek Ratanaruang. Thai. 2007. 105 mins.
Thai auteur Pen-ek Ratanaruang's most mature, measured film to date, Ploy offers a darkly poetic variation on the theme of The Seven Year Itch. Though its slow pacing demands a certain patience, the slow waltz of story, editing and camerawork goes beyond the surreal, open-ended ditherings of the director's last film, Invisible Waves, to deliver a solid dramatic punch and an unforced moral message.
This is such a tasty slice of cinema, by turns onieric, erotic, funny and emotionally perceptive, that it could easily have made the Cannes competition rather than the Quinzaine sidebar. Ploy imposes its own unhurried rhythm but then rewards its viewers for their indulgence, and within the arthouse niche that it will inevitably inhabit this could turn out to be a strong seller for Fortissimo, possibly outdoing Last Life In The Universe: it's difficult to see distributors in territories with resilient cineaste audiences passing this one up. Critical buzz and further festival dates should help to get the word out.
Right from the beginning it becomes clear that we are in a transit zone, both geographical and emotional. We see a couple arrive at Bangkok airport, take a cab and check in at an anonymous contemporary hotel in the small hours of the morning. The husband, Wit (Pornwut Sarasin), goes down to the bar for a packet of cigarettes and starts chatting to Ploy (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk), a vivacious, Lolita-like girl who claims to be waiting for her mother, and looks younger than the almost-19 she declares.
As there are still several hours to go until Ploy's mother arrives, Wit invites her to get some rest in his suite, where he has left his wife Dang (well-known Thai film and TV actress Lalita Panyopas) asleep.But she's not asleep now, and is understandably annoyed with, and suspicious of, her husband. Just like her, we're never quite sure whether Wit's invitation was purely altruistic, just as we're not sure whether Ploy's acceptance was as innocent as it seems - or rather, didn't seem.
Ratanaruang plays with this uncertainty in a masterly way throughout the film - in fact, Ploy (the film) is a fine example of his skill as a scriptwriter as well as his assured way with actors, staging and framing.
Meanwhile, in an apparently unrelated story, Nut (Ananda Everingham), the barman we saw downstairs, meets Tum (Phorntip Pananai), a chambermaid, for a gently erotic illicit encounter in a hotel room.
Australian-Laotian Everingham is a hot star in Thailand - though its difficult to know whether his fans at home will be amused or annoyed by the fact that, as the director declares in the press book, 'he spends most of his screentime inside a girl's skirt'. Gradually the connection between the two plotlines is revealed, or half-revealed. Because although the dreams Wit, Ploy and Dang have during their fitful slumbers invade the story (and this may or may not be one of them), they do so with an inventive edginess that keeps us guessing.
Charnkit Chamniwikaipong proves a worthy successor to Chris Doyle, who worked as cinematographer on Ratanaruang's last two films: Ploy is beautifully framed and shot, most of the time in a painterly half-light that stresses the transitional zone that Wit and Dang's relationship has reached: it's a kind of emotional twilight.
Music consists mostly of subdued electronic suspense chords and fugue-like organ notes, with more dramatic free-jazz impro raising the temperature near the end. Even a torch song delivered straight to camera by Tum, the chambermaid, does not break the mood: like everything else in this impressive film, it is perfectly judged.
A Five Star Production
The Film Factory Ltd
Fortissimo Film Sales