More than just specks of yellow dust

Barring some boos when certain politicians appeared on the giant monitors, it was never a political gathering. And it was nothing like a musical concert where crowds wait hours or camp overnight, knowing that what is to happen would delight their eyes and ears. The hundreds of thousands of Thais who converged at the Royal Plaza and surrounding area on December 5 were not motivated by political ambition or desire to see or hear anything pleasant. Everybody knew it was going to be hot and absolutely jammed, that to be there they must get up before the birds, and that, once there, they shouldn’t expect to see anything spectacular or hear rousing speeches.

His Majesty the King’s appearance on the balcony of the Throne Hall did not last much longer than a simple piece of music, and his speech was shorter than an introduction by a host at a key event. Most of the assembled Thais did not see him in the flesh and had to rely on the big screens. Not that they were worried. And there was nothing new in this particular speech, either. As usual, His Majesty thanked his people and wished them well. As usual he reminded them of the virtue of unity. And as usual he expressed confidence in the strength of the nation, no matter how deep the trouble it has been in recently.

When it comes from your heart, you can’t alter it that much, and in the end there isn’t much new to offer. For years and years, His Majesty has thanked the Thai people, given them strength and taught them the right way to go about in this world. He rarely veers off course, and when he occassionally does – like when he said rich people are not necessarily good – he means to tell his people to remain dignified regardless of how much money they have. The monarch never provokes. He never pits his people against each other.

His people know that. Their last gathering for him was therefore meant to give and not to take. The phrase “I didn’t come to see him, but I came so he could see us” symbolised the massive convergence, distinguishing it from any other crowd. When political activists try to drum up rallies, vowing to safeguard the throne, thousands – or tens of thousands at best – show up. On December 5, when politics temporarily faded, giving way to an occasion to express sincere support and pure love, an ocean of yellow-shirted citizens materialised at the Royal Plaza and beyond.

“You are more than dust” is a statement often used to question the relevance of Thailand’s monarchy. To some, kneeling, bowing or having to stand up in movie theatres is a really big issue. They think it’s derogatory for Thais to decribe themselves as lower than dirt under his shoes. To them, this is more important than the fact that any Thai can live a perfectly happy life without having to kneel, bow, put his photo up at home or sing the royal anthems. The truth is, “dust under his shoes” can go as high as they want, whether they would die for him or don’t love him that much.

The “yellow dust” knows that the monarch is never responsible for tax or land policies that favour the rich, or abuse by the powers-that-be. They know that drug problems, the threats of the local “mafia” to rural livelihoods, or why poor farmers are taken advantage of, have absolutely nothing to do with His Majesty’s existence. They know that while “human rights” are always invoked by those not agreeing with the love shown to him, they have every right themselves to feel what they feel. And they know, more than anybody else, that what they feel comes straight from the hearts without prompting by any forceful law.

The “yellow dust” is well connected and understands democracy. They can differentiate when politics gets too close and they know that the term the “King is above politics” requires commitment by all sides. They don’t deny seeing him as divine, but that is only because of what he does and stands for, as well as his unquestionable intention for the Thai nation. They know that if the monarch really had his say, Thailand’s education system would be far better. They don’t know if he could liberate all Thai farmers, but they know that if he was given a free hand to help the poor population, he would do his best without any hidden agenda.

The “yellow dust” has all kinds of trouble. To know that one man of such high status shares it with them – albeit in his own mythical way – is enough. On December 5, it was all about paying back that care. The repayment came in the form of a sea of yellow that they wanted him to see. In proud self-mockery, each speck of dust came together to defy another school of thought that tries to tell them they are “more than that”. They probably are, albeit in their own loyal way. Tulsathit Taptim

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10 movies must see at the 10th World Film Festival of Bangkok

FADOS at the 10th World Film Festival of Bangkok

FADOS at the 10th World Film Festival of Bangkok

From drama and comedy to musicals and documentaries, 84 features and shorts will be screened during the 10th World Film Festival of Bangkok, which starts next Friday.

The festival opens at Paragon Cineplex with Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest feature “Mekong Hotel”, which premiered earlier this year in a special screenings at Cannes Film Festival. The closer is “Fados” at Esplanade Cineplex on November 25.

Among the highlights will be the presentation of the festival’s Lotus Award for lifetime achievement to French director Leos Carax, who latest feature “Holy Motors” will screen.

Deciding which films to see is always difficult so we asked the festival director, Kriengsak “Victor” Silakong and deputy director Dusit Silakong to pick their 10 must-sees.

1. FADOS

Victor: Performing arts on screen tends to looks alienated but director Carlos Saura offers a very subtle representation in ‘Fados’. This is a film that truly honours the performing arts.”

The story: The last in the famed musical trilogy directed by Saura uses Portuguese’s capital Lisbon as a backdrop. He explores Portugal’s most emblematic musical genre fado and its haunting spirit of saudade (melancholy) and traces its African and Brazilian origins up to the new wave of modern faudistas through the production design in each song.

2.YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE

Dusit: “This film represents the Taiwanese trend of turning novels or short stories into films. It is very well-paced and reflects the feel-good and frustrated moments of teenage life.”

The story: Ko Ching-teng claims to be immune to the charms of Shen Chia-yi, the girl all his classmates are crazy about. But when Shen is ordered to tutor Ko, their friendship blossoms into something more. After graduation from senior high, Ko and Shen almost become a couple but Ko sets up a fight, which fails to impress Shen and all deals are off.

3. HOLY MOTORS

Victor: “For me, this should have been the winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year even though it went home empty-handed. It’s a grotesque movie in the sense that a rich man disguises himself as different people so he can observe other lives from different social levels. The character bring us to different kinds of people and surprises us eventually.”

The story: From dawn to dusk, Monsieur Oscar, journeys from one life to the next. He is, in turn, captain of industry, assassin, beggar, monster, family man. He seems to be playing roles, plunging headlong into each part – but where are the cameras?

4. ELEPHANT SHAMAN

Dusit: “This is the story of the last elephant shaman and his mission to teach the wild elephants that invade the villagers’ fields. What I love about this film is how much it teaches us and the importance of living in harmony with nature.”

The story: The documentary focuses on an 85-year-old ethnic Meo who is thought to be the last elephant shaman in Thailand. He wants to to pass on his knowledge to the next generation.

5. UNDER SNOW

Victor: “The director presents the local lifestyle through this folk tale with two actors and to the accompaniment of kabuki music. He cleverly has the actors morph into different characters from the folk tales but in the present world. While there is English narration, there are no subtitles during the Japanese dialogue.”

The story: In the Japanese region of Echigo, the locals live under heavy snowfall for half of the year. Because of this, they have developed their own customs of everyday life, festivals and religious rituals. Ulrike Ottinger leads us into the reality of the snowscape with its beauty and austere living conditions, follows the mythical tracks of the “gods of paths and roads” and mountain spirits, and places us within the fairytale world of a beautiful vixen and her lover.

6. LE HAVRE

Victor: “Definitely the must-see movie. This film makes you feel good as it shows how people can give love to another person even though they may not know that other person.”

The story: Fate throws young African refugee Idrissa into the path of a bohemian who works as a shoeshiner. With optimism and the unwavering support of his community, the man stands up to officials doggedly pursuing the boy for deportation.

7. POST TENEBRAS LUX

Victor: “The film represents contemporary Mexican life. Though we can guess what the movie will lead us to, there is a moment that will both surprise and shock the audience.”

The story: Juan and his urban family live in the Mexican countryside, where they enjoy and suffer a world apart. Nobody knows if these two worlds are complementary or if they are striving to eliminate one another.

8. CINE HOLLIDY

Dusit: “This is a kind of ‘Cinema Paradiso’, where the coming of television and the old world of cinema clash head on. Even though the film doesn’t see TV as the evil that kicks it away, it reveals the common truth that modernity inevitably leads the death of older habits.”

The story: The arrival of television in the Brazilian countryside in the ’70s almost put an end to the small movie theatres. But a hero called Francisgleydisson decided to fight to keep alive his passion for his cinema. His weapons: creativity and a unique sense of humour.

9. NO MAN’S ZONE

Dusit: “This documentary explores the lives of the elderly who lived near the Fukushima Nuclear Plant. They had to leave the homes where they had lived for decades. For them, it’s like a repeat of World War II, as the neighbourhood is empty and they become homeless once again.”

The story: The 40-year-old nuclear power station on the coast of Fukushima went into crisis after being struck by the tsunami on March 11, 2011. Within 24 hours, an evacuation order was proclaimed for the surrounding 20 km area. The documentary travels into this No Man’s Zone and the surrounding regions where people continue to live.

10. BARBIE

Dusit: “It’s a simple melodrama but it’s a lovely film, especially the young actresses!”

The story: An American physician arrives at Pohang airport with his 13-year-old daughter Barbie. Steve is adopting Soon-yong for a heart transplant to save his younger daughter who has heart disease. Mangtak, Soon-yong’s uncle, is selling his niece well aware that she’s going to die. But Soon-ja, who believes in the American dream and has no idea of the truth, uses every trick in the book to be adopted in place of her sister.

The World Film Festival of Bangkok is organised by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, Ministry of Culture, in collaboration with Nation Broadcasting Corporation, The Nation and Major Cineplex.