She is 25 and he is 23. They’ve been in jail for nearly a year now. Their punishment for directing and acting in a theatrical production of a fable that wants no more and no less than to incarnate the freedom to speak, publicly and guilelessly, of the brutal heart of the sovereign who wears the garb of the righteous.
Last night, anniversary night, the student looked fixedly at the camera phone and kept his voice even, listing the assaults that battered and bruised the young bodies of his fellow objectors. The sentence, when it came, came with the force of one who incarnates the right to speak as a people who are not yet here. We broke laws made by thieves. The morning after, the declaration of freedom of a people who break laws made by thieves arrived handwritten on the back of a Styrofoam fast food container. A letter to the dear military penned while in custody during the long early hours of anniversary night.
Little Estike sets herself in motion. Reading Jacque Rancière’s Bela Tarr, The Time After, his reflection on the trajectory of the little girl’s marching, carving out a straight line in pursuit of a promise around which the circle of the same closes, I’m afraid my thoughts don’t stay with the subject at hand. In this time I can only grasp this text in the translated image of the closed circle of my homeland. Coup after coup after coup. And last year’s, my son’s first coup within four months of his birth, brought with it a sense of the full turn of the circle. Here, then, the nothingness of October 1973, the false promise of democratic rupture my generation had once fancied ourselves to be the midnights’ children of.
Many Estikes have set out on their purposive walk since May 2014. Instead of the dead cat in hand they wear slogan t-shirts. They make gestures with their fingers and hands and mouth, and they make page after page on Facebook to show the dictatorship’s surveillance apparatus and its royalist vigilantes that the white doves are still flying. With these gestures Thailand’s Estikes are resuscitating the figures of the revolutionary youth and the student activist that have been hollowed out by the fat men who had been there and had then gotten used to dining at the masters’ table. They are young and they are in jail. They are students and they are tortured for making the breach that gives the sensation, whatever the consequence, however faint, of the movement of collective birthing. The promises that set them in motion are liberty, recognition of equal human worth, and a nation that is yet to be.
In the period that had just passed Apichatpong Weerasethakul and his many collaborators in Thailand have been struggling to free Thai cinema. It wasn’t easy for them back then, walking toward the light during the fifteen years of electoralism and half-hearted coup that now, absurdly, feels like a time of relative openness. How much harder will it be now for the young in Thailand, and for the filmmakers and artists who will have to set off in motion as the Estikes of this time.
Rancière’s text teaches us that the point of cinema isn’t to make narratives about that which is already known. This long hard time doesn’t need cinema to denounce the henchmen and handmaidens of impunity. Cinema doesn’t need to exist to tell tales of the complicity and inertia of the class to which most of the filmmakers belong. Cinema’s vocation is to construct the intensities and duration of the leap into the unknown, no matter what becomes of the act. Making films under a military dictatorship is hard, though ultimately what makes it hard isn’t the need to kick against paranoid surveillance and the further tightening of censorship. Hardest of all must be to do it somehow, to live up to this vocation at a time when what cinema can give is, more than ever, vital.
May Adadol Ingawanij
Originally written for Lumen for its forthcoming issue featuring responses to Rancière’s Bela Tarr, The Time After. Revised on 23 May 2015.