Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Catfish Thai Style

For me, it will always be a love/hate relationship.

I love the VCU Cinemtatheque series, but I hate when it coincides with a VCU basketball game, like tonight. Despite only having to go a half a mile to the Grace Street Theater, it's like competition dodge ball to run the gauntlet between focused fans on foot and in vehicles.

Come on, people, I just want to see a free movie.

Twice, I almost got mowed down by people, heads down and charging toward the Siegel Center, oblivious to those of us not caught up in fandom. It's not like I don't want VCU to win, I do, but I don't have to watch it to make it happen.

I made a quick stop at Ipanema to buy a ticket for the upcoming Bijou/Byrd Theater fundraiser (showing "Finding Vivian Maier," up for an Oscar as best documentary), chatted with the man with the magnificent mutton chops and scooted across stopped traffic on Grace Street to the theater.

Not only were students pouring in, several saying they'd heard the movie was good, but grown-ups, too. The king of Video Fan sat down behind me, ideal because I then had someone to talk film with. He's busy working on the upcoming Twin Peaks festival and shared that they'd nailed down showing "Eraserhead" during the event. Can't wait.

I inquired what he knew about tonight's Thai film, "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," the 2010 winner of the Cannes Palme d'Or prize and he confirmed that he'd heard it was terrific. In fact, they'd just recently gotten it in at the store, but he'd held off watching it to see it on the big screen. That's a smart man.

Just as the lights were dimming, a Frenchman I know slid into the seat next to me, saying, "There were too many kids on their phones around me. I had to move." There ought to be a law.

The film professor with the booming voice who usually leads off these screenings with an explanation of why the film was being shown and what the director is known for was absent tonight, leaving us in the hands of an assistant professor who mumbled a few words and rolled the film.

"If he'd talked much longer, he'd have put everyone to sleep," the Frenchman observed dryly. He should know since I once heard him snoring at a Russian film screening at UR.

From the opening shots of a buffalo in the woods, which probably lasted close to ten minutes without a single word being spoken, you could tell this was going to be an exquisitely shot movie. It was soon just as clear that belief needed to be suspended.

The tale of a man dying of kidney failure who assembles his loved ones for his last days began to cross into mystical territory when the ghost of his dead wife shows up on the veranda to chat with him and the others. Before long, his long-lost son arrives, only he's become a monkey ghost, complete with black fur and glowing red eyes.

What was most interesting about all this was how matter-of-factly it was presented. No explanations were offered for how dead people could just show up and talk to humans, but it came across plausibly.

What if our dead loved ones do have the ability to reach out to us as we slide toward death and help us make the transition to the other side? I can't say that's not possible.

One of the oddest scenes involved a princess who gives herself up to a catfish who thinks she's beautiful and, yes, there is woman/catfish sex shown as she floats on the water. It no doubt sounds far stranger written out here than it played out in the movie.

As a whole, sitting in the darkened theater, the meandering movie was trance-like as it unfolded, every Thai landscape enthralling, every conversation a consideration of what life and death mean. When the spirit world begins to recede at the end, we know it's because our hero has died and they're no longer needed.

Absent out usual professor, there was unfortunately no post-film discussion like there usually is. Given how enigmatic the movie was, it was particularly missed. I'm always curious what others have to say.

As the credits rolled, a student near me turned to his friends and said, "I liked it. It took you to another place." And as a 19-year old, it's probably a place he wouldn't have gone to on his own. in the lobby, a girl announced, "I'm going to have to go home and Google that movie."

Outside in front of the theater, a cluster of students was deep in discussion when I passed them. "And then she gave birth to a fish...right?" one asked tentatively. "No, I think she just had sex with it," another proclaimed.

Potato, potahto. My takeaway came from the ghost of the ex-wife. "Heaven is over-rated." Well, there's some good news.

Ultimately, it was a film not to be dissected, but one to be enjoyed in the moment. Kind of like life.

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