Tropical Malady in La Fuga

tropical malady

Tropical Malady: Territorios inciertos. Everyone notices the broken-backed narratives of the first few films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, made around a decade ago now. Goodness how time flies! How we give aesthetic and other values to Apichatpong’s distinctive storytelling remains the big question to ponder still. I like the connection made at the end of this short review of his สัตว์ประหลาด/Tropical Malady (2004), written by Sebastian Lorenzo and posted on the Chilean web magazine La Fuga. He links Apichatpong’s fragmented and freely dissembling approach to narrative construction to myth-making, to the act of bricolage. He then characterises Tropical Malady‘s significance in terms of a film that fertilely connects the old, that reanimates a narrative tradition preceding cinema’s narrative institutionalisation.

Lorenzo’s critical insight overlaps nicely with Apichatpong’s own description of this film as a homage to the peculiarly disaggregated style of old Thai films. I’ve always liked Apichatpong’s adoption of this particular tactic of validating his own work. To contextualise his aesthetics as a homage to old Thai things preempts the lazy accusations that used to plague him in Thailand, as he was rising to global prominence, that his films are made for foreigners. But what’s more subtle, and most often left unsaid by the artist himself, is that Tropical Malady, as with his other work, is a homage to the free spirits and wild souls in those lowly old Thai things dismissed as the culture of them downstairs. A primitivism of sorts, anarchistically tinged.

The NFT London is showing a mammoth retrospective of Pasolini’s films this early spring. I caught Arabian Nights (1974) yesterday and realised for the first time that there’s a lot connecting Apichatpong with Pasolini. How both of them love faces. The same shamanistic channelling of joy. In Pasolini’s case scene after scene of sex without alienation, and the brazenness with which he whips his viewers on an imaginative ride back to an archaic world where the smiling faces of archetypal North African beauty speak, but of course!, in Italian. And the boy with the first crop of downy moustache on his tender upper lip finds his “Zu-ma-ruuuuudd!” again at the end of the film, just like that. Walking out into an unusually quiet late Saturday night round the boozy, piss sodden back streets of Waterloo I thought how much I’d love to see Apichatpong take on the Ramayana.

May Adadol Ingawanij

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