Blissfully Free
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
Magazine

CULTURE

Blissfully Free


By Anthony Faraday JAN, 2003 - VOLUME 11 NO.1


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An independent Thai film with a Burmese migrant in the lead has attracted a lot of attention. When "Blissfully Yours", a film from independent Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, screened on the opening night of the Bangkok International Film Festival, the cinema was packed with film-goers on foldaway seats in the aisle. But why wouldn’t it be? With the Un Certain Regard award from the judges at Cannes and international acclaim that most seasoned directors could barely dream of, films like "Blissfully Yours" are rare indeed. And the once-only screening was the only time people in Thailand would be able to see it untouched by the censor’s knife. "Blissfully Yours" brings to the screen two things Thailand’s conservative censors can’t help but be irked by: sex scenes and an illegal Burmese migrant as the main character. Min, played by Rangoon-born Min Oo, is totally mute in the first few scenes. Min is condemned to silence, for to open his mouth would reveal him as an illegal Burmese migrant. Through the film Min’s suffering is the most obvious, his skin constantly peels and in Thailand he is something of a leper. "For me, Min is an isolated entity or just a spirit who has wandered into Thai territory," Apichatpong says. The film plays on the theme of escape and freedom when a fairly mundane picnic becomes a dreamy afternoon. With Min’s Thai girlfriend Roong in the driver’s seat, the besotted couple heads for the jungle. Along for the ride is Orn, Roong’s older friend hired to nurse Min. Disturbingly quiet with only a little dialogue, forest sounds and music, the film is shot in real time, with slow and still camera shots. Viewers are given plenty of time to think and reflect, and to appreciate in a small way, how special and rare the character’s freedom is. In making "Blissfully Yours", Apichatpong avoided dwelling on issues of Thai-Burma border politics, and evidence of the characters being oppressed or suffering is kept to a minimum. "Suffering is universal, especially suffering connected to political issues," Apichatpong explains. Instead, the film focuses on how small, mundane events like picnics and a swim in the stream, can be the most liberating experiences of all. "You live in nowhere, and you are framed by certain rules. You are happy or not, you are not sure. I want the audience to enter this state of illusion, oppression. That’s my political message," he says. In the jungle, the characters have no inhibitions and no fear of being discovered; they relish their freedom. Roong lathers on her homemade skin lotion, but Min can only itch and peel. "The characters in ‘Blissfully Yours’ do not care about the audience. They are trying to find their own space and the film is essentially about escaping to find happiness," he says. The film doesn’t just beat the drum for displaced Burmese. The Thai characters, particularly Roong who hand paints cartoon figurines in a factory under appalling conditions, and Orn, who seems lost and desperately childless in middle age, evoke just as much empathy from viewers. As Apichatpong puts it, "the film is about basic human needs." He admits he is disappointed Thai people will not be able to see his film in full outside the single screening at the festival in January. He says many people in Thailand are ignorant of Burma-related issues but doesn’t see himself as a Burma expert either. "As a filmmaker, not a news reporter, I connected through feelings and tried to present that numbed state to the public," he said. He drew a lot from working with and speaking to the actor Min Oo who came on the set without any experience, except that of being an migrant in Thailand himself. Min’s struggle and the struggle of Burmese people in Thailand are certainly not the most obvious things in "Blissfully Yours". Sex is. Several scenes, featuring Roong and Min, and another with Orn, are explicit with the camera being anything but shy. Arguably, this fits with the film’s general theme of freedom. The characters find freedom in each other and that’s the story Apichatpong brings to the screen. However, it’s the sex that has given Thailand’s censorship board the most cause for concern. Apichatpong defends his use of sex in the film as a more honest form of storytelling and a bid to get closer to reality. But the version okayed by the censors and distributors which screened at a handful of Bangkok cinemas in late-January, kept the sex scenes brief and nudity off the screen. Apichatpong says he wants to see more personal films being made in Thailand.


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