An exploration of the director’s sexual boundaries forms the heart of this obsessively personal film from Thailand
Dir. Thunksa Pansittivorakul. Thailand. 2020. 63 mins.
The latest documentary from Thai filmmaker Thunska Pansittivorakul is an intensely personal affair that charts his relationship with his cinematographer Harit Srikhao (referred to as Perth throughout) via sex tapes they recorded. The explicit material is used extensively in such a no-holds barred, full-frontal and often close-up fashion that this film is liable to challenge all but niche festival audiences following its world premiere at Dok Leipzig.
An impenetrably personal work
Away from the directly shot sexual activities - many of which take place outside of a bedroom and involve a third man, Patipol Teekayuwat (referred to as Es) - there is a fragmented approach, mixing domestic small talk with abstract observations on love and Thai society. The film was largely shot in a village devastated by floods in 2011, which led to it becoming virtually abandoned. This, bolstered by shots of the director, Perth and Es beside a near-empty swimming pool - along with its predominately electro soundtrack by Space360 - gives the film a sense of being set apart from society, although in terms of reference to the state of wider Thailand, it is also cast adrift.
Crafting his own little idyll - the private Avalon of the film’s title - seems to have been the director’s intention, with him describing sex as a sort of “Holy Land” in his director’s note, an escape from a wider society where “sex is considered shameful, and not to be spoken of in public”. Pansittivorakul has long aimed to be a provocateur with his work - his 2009 film This Area is Under Quarantine was banned in his homeland - and he certainly doesn’t hold back for fear of censorship.
Some sections have the general feel of an art installation - a series of cinematic snapshots of the director (referred to as Poon throughout the film) and Perth as a couple or a later homoerotic montage of sex and the nooks and crannies of male bodies in close-up. These interludes have a more poetic quality than the straightforward sex tapes themselves, which though clearly important emotionally to Pansittivorakul, struggle to gain a greater resonance.
There’s a stream-of-consciousness flow to proceedings that adds to the sense of this being an, at times, an impenetrably personal work, as the director ruminates on everything from being blocked on Facebook by a former lover to an odd little anecdote about a Thai prince who may have stolen a love serenade he famously “wrote” from the Laotians. Pansittivorakul comes closest to universal themes when he draws a loose parallel between the jellyfish, which he notes only has reproductive and digestive systems but no heart, and attitudes to relationships in his homeland. And, when we’re given respite from the physical act of sex, there are also some interesting, although largely unpursued, observations on the nature of truth and whether it is achievable.
While there’s no doubting Pansittivorakul deeply cares about this material, he struggles to make us do the same. At several points, the men are captured editing film. “I’ve looked at so much footage my eyes hurt,” one says. Even at just an hour long, by the end, many viewers are likely to share the sentiment.
Production company: Jürgen Brüning Filmproduktion
International sales: Jürgen Brüning, firstname.lastname@example.org
Producer: Jürgen Brüning
Cinematography: Harit Srikhao
Editing: Thunska Pansittivorakul
Featuring: Thunska Pansittivorakul, Harit Srikhao, Patipol Teekayuwat