By Jessica McGoff

What year is it? The year referenced in the title of the latest collaboration between Ben Rivers and Anocha Suwichakornpong, Krabi, 2562, is the present day as designated by the Buddhist calendar. The decision not to state the common (Western) year immediately introduces a slippage into the film’s sense of time and place. Slippage is the central tenant of the project, the film knocks time, identity and memory slightly off-balance, and questions how these concepts are constructed by humans. In its unfolding, the film demonstrates how the Holocene can run into the Anthropocene and back again.

The film is a hybrid work, and the production process of Krabi, 2562 is more closely linked to documentary than its form. Rivers and Suwichakornpong, having been invited to contribute to the first Thailand Biennale, traveled around Krabi, filming their encounters with the landscape and the people within it. They then structured their project to navigate around these encounters, folding fiction between and within them. The film is realized in rich images shot on Super 16 by Rivers himself and Suwichakornpong’s regular cinematographer Leung Ming Kai. The central figure in the film is a mysterious visitor to the town of Krabi. Her identity is constantly shifting, as she introduces herself differently to each person she meets. She often interviews these people, functioning somewhat as a stand-in for our directors. She explores, she is curious, she disappears. Another slippery presence.

A distinct awareness of cinema, and the cinematic modes that the film drifts between, lends the film a sense of elegant mischief. We are presented early with a scene of a film set, we see a crew filming a commercial on a Krabi beach. This foregrounds the film’s location as one caught up in complex processes of representation, including those for profit. Further on, we meet a projectionist, still care-taking an abandoned cinema. There is an extended shot of the now-defunct cinema screen, but it is not empty, it is filled with birds. The birds fly between the corners of the screen, casting shadows on the surface. The mechanics of light and movement that comprise cinema are transmuted, and made zoological and untamed. The birds’ cinematic performance is an exuberant inclusion, but it also asks: does cinema really need humans? Can it thrive without us? During an interview with the projectionist, just as he states that he has mastered the technique of projection, the film (playfully, performatively) burns out.

The political text of Suwichakornpong’s previous work is slightly more subdued in this project, however certain scenes play out with a sense of foreboding (the opening scene lingers on school children reciting the national pledge to the monarchy) or feature an ominous creep in the soundscape (at one point, a scene is invaded with disembodied sounds of military marching). Towards the third act, the film turns its focus more pointedly on the tourism industry of Thailand. However, the film is not straightforwardly critical of tourists as individuals, instead aiming its critique upwards. We meet an American couple visiting Krabi, and although they themselves are faintly ridiculous (one states their plan for the day: “a temple, a beach, a massage”) they are rendered horizontally within both the narrative and the frame. As characters, not caricatures, the film interacts with the tourists on the same level as the Thai inhabitants we have also met. Rather than casting the Other as an individual destructive force, we instead must contemplate the wider structures of imbalance, and the capitalistic driving forces responsible for the social inequality and environmental carnage of the tourist industry.

Within the film’s elusive structure, there is one shot that proves revelatory. A single track along a cave wall, as if shot from a moving river. The cave wall, originally in darkness, blue with black shadows, gradually shifts to almost luminous white. Dark to light, night to day, sleep to wake: this is ultimately the form of the film. When we see our protagonist sail into these caves, shot in profile from behind, she disappears into the void. Darkness engulfs her, signalling to us to throw away all our notions of where and when we may be and surrender to the unknown. Within these caves dwells a crucial time slip: a Neanderthal couple. Have they been leftover from a prehistoric time? Are they from a movie set? Could they be the statues we see in the town centre come to life? Their appearance in a present-day scene confirms the importance of the film’s mutable time and form. Krabi, 2562’s slippages are operational: the slippage between time, between modes and between identities are a way to navigate coming to a place as a stranger, avoiding dominance and resisting commitment to a static, imperious document. In a world problematized by the subordination of landscapes and of people by forces set to conquer and chronicle, Krabi, 2562 presents us with an explorative, affective encounter with a time and place that isn’t quite set in stone.

Deep Focus, Signatures
Filmmakers: Ben Rivers, Anocha Suwichakornpong
English Producer :Maenum Chagasik, Ben Rivers
Production Company: Electric Eel Films, Ben Rivers Limited Sales Rediance
Cinematography: Leung Ming-kai, Ben Rivers
Editor: Aacharee Ungsriwong
Production: Design Parinda Moongmaiphol
Sound Design: Ernst Karel
Cast: Siraphun Wattanajinda, Arak Amornsupasiri, Primrin Puarat, Nuttawat Attasawat, Atchara Suwan, Lieng Leelatiwanon
Thailand, United Kingdom
2019 93’