Thursday, April 4, 2013

Headshot (2011)

WHO: Pen-ek Ratanaruang wrote and directed this. He's coming to town this weekend; his first visit to San Francisco, apparently.

WHAT: The latest feature by the Thai director is, I believe, his first shot digitally. (UPDATE 4/7/13: it's his second after Nymph, as it turn out.) His usual cinematographer Chankit Chamnivikaipong used the famed Red One camera for this so-called "Buddhist neo-noir" piece about a Bangkok policeman who gets embroiled in a world of gangsters, corruption and conspiracy against his will. He receives a headwound which leads to an unusual form of brain damage in which his vision is turned upside down. Luckily, the audience doesn't get too many disorienting point-of-view shots from this topsy-turvy perspective. One gently humorous scene involving a television set reminds us that when the world around us (or even just our perception of it) has been upended, it's comforting to at least be able to spend some time watching images on a screen that don't make us feel completely out-of-sync with reality. This might be a good summation of Pen-ek's motivation for filming in the first place; in a 2009 interview recently published in the book Southeast Asian Independent Cinema he stresses his desire to make films that connect him to like-minded audiences around the world who are alienated by the fare that dominates international cinema screens. A quote:
Lonely people tend to like my films a lot. Happy people don't seem to get my films. When I meet someone who says she liked my films, ninety percent of the time she prefers funerals to weddings, and its also a fan of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and Nick Cave, like myself. 
WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight only at 7:30 at the Yerba Buena Center For the Arts screening room. Pen-ek is expected to attend.

WHY: This screening kicks off a six-title retrospective of most of Pen-ek's feature films (his promising debut Fun Bar Karaoke and his third film Mon-Rak Transistor, which seems more and more to be the biggest stylistic and thematic anomaly in his filmography, are omitted) at YBCA, including the local premiere screenings of his three films which inexplicably never screened in the Bay Area. There has been a good deal of worthwhile press for this event, including articles by Valerie Soe, Cheryl Eddy and Jonathan Kiefer. Though one might expect films that other venues have passed on to be markedly inferior to the ones that have played here; I bet the average uninitiated attendee of this series wouldn't be able to guess that Ploy failed to make it into any local festivals while Nymph succeeded, or that 6ixtynin9 had a week-long run here but Invisible Waves didn't. (Last Life in the Universe remains Pen-ek's most fully satisfying film and it won't be a surprise to anyone that it's had the most Frisco Bay cinema showtimes of all his works).

It's a good reminder that there's a lot more to program a cinema or a festival than just sussing out quality. The fiscal states, marketing plans, or simple whims of distributors, sales agents, or filmmakers themselves can have more impact on whether a given film screens here than the best efforts of the smartest programmers can. It's important to remember this during the week of the San Francisco International Film Festival's announcement. If you follow the goings-on at other festivals around the country and the globe, there's surely a film or two (or more) that you were practically certain would/could/should appear at SFIFF this year. I like to channel such frustrations into hopes that another programmer might give the film a shot at another nearby venue. If, for example, you wonder why Carlos Reygadas's Cannes 2012 entry Post Tenebras Lux has yet to rear its head locally, be heartened that YBCA's Joel Shepard is bringing it in May 30 through June 1st.

HOW: Though the rest of this series is sourced from 35mm, Headshot was shot digitally and will be screened that way.


  1. A pretty full house for my first Pen-ek, it whetted my appetite for more, nice to see him and the Q & A was interesting. He described how the amazing early 8 minute shot was done (might have been even harder if not video)and how in 2009 Thai theatres weren't ready for digital projection so 35mm prints were made, which is what Joel chose to show.

  2. Glad the house was nearly full. Sorry I had to miss this showing, but I did see Nymph on film thanks to SFIFF a few years back. On the other hand I was just able to interview Pen-ek this morning. I hope to transcribe and publish that at some point in the near future. See you at more, I guess?

  3. The only other one I can fit in is Last Life In The Universe
    Sorry I left out the title Nymph in my previous post but you figured it out.

  4. It wasn't hard; you mentioned the long opening shot, the date of the film and the fact that it was shot on video but released on film. Any of these would be a giveaway to someone as familiar with his work as I am.