In April the Following Year . . . There Was a Fire

Director: Wichanon Somunjarn
Year: 2012
Rating: 5.5
Country: Thailand

In sort of a preamble before the opening credits begin, Nuhm is walking down a street in Bangkok when he is stopped by a member of a film crew and asked to hold up for a minute as they shoot a scene. They get to talking as they are both from the northeast of Thailand and Nuhm asks him what the film is. An indie he is answered. What's that? A low budget film. Oh, like Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives (referencing a film by Thailand's most famous Indie director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul). Yes. Where will I be able to see it? In a film festival is the response. And what will it be called? In April the Following Year, There was a Fire.

The director of this film Wichanon Somunjarn touches on a few things there. Thailand for the most part crunches out commercial films - broad comedies, horrors, teen romances and such. Very little of it any more has legs that travel outside of the country. But there is a small independent group of filmmakers who direct artistic low budget films that rarely see the light of day except in foreign film festivals. This one was entered into a few festivals but if it even got a release in Thailand I am sure it was a very brief one. There are very few films these past few years in which festivals and home popularity intersect. Which is rather sad because there was a period in the early 2000's when Thailand was making some amazing films that received a lot of International attention - but most of them crashed and died at the box office in Thailand and that innovative film scene just vanished.

This opening scene also indicates in a small way how this film fluctuates between the film narrative and reality - mixing them up so that the viewer is never really sure what is happening. In one scene Nuhm is being romantic over dinner with a long ago flame when suddenly the director interrupts with a "cut" and the film switches to another scene. The director also brings on his real-life father and brother (which I know only by reading about the film) to talk about the past - the brother about being attacked by a jellyfish (which explains an early mysterious scene), the father about Wichanon dropping out of college to pursue film. In the background an announcer on the radio tells of clashes between the government and Red Shirts from around the time of this film.

The plot such as it is has Nuhm after losing his job in Bangkok going home to the city of Khon Kaen - up north where the director comes from (as does Apichatpong). He clearly hasn't been back home for a while and his interactions with his father and friends is awkward and stilted - as if there is now a gulf between them because of his time in Bangkok. But there really is no narrative here - it feels more like a floating personal journey of the director playing things out in his mind. There are some lovely moments that don't seem to connect at all like the man in the boat rowing up a canal as a narrator tells of a Thai folk tale. The film takes its time like a slowly unreeling dream - it follows characters for long walks, watches a stable helper wash down a horse for minutes, motorcycling around town - all creating a desultory mood - but it never really pays off - it just ends and at least I wasn't clear what the director was aiming for. The director has not been able to make another feature film as far as I can tell. Which is usually the fate of indie directors in Thailand.