Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, young prolific artist – he is writer, screenwriter, critic, producer and filmmaker – immerses us in the lives of teenage idols in Thailand. The documentary has been around the festival circuit. In Europe, it premiered in Rotterdam and was screened in Udine. It has now been shown in London, as the closing movie of the Aperture: Asia & Pacific Film Festival. The documentary is now on Netflix.

BNK48: Girls don’t cry” screened at Aperture: Asia & Pacific Film Festival

“BNK48: Girls don’t cry” focuses on the girls-band BNK48. The latest is a counterpart of Japanese group AKB48. The Thai group officially debuted in 2017. At its inception, the band counted 29 members. If they are now 50, the documentary focuses on the first-generation members. Because 29 girls cannot perform each song, thirteen girls are selected per single. They are called ‘Senbatsu’ and the ones that aren’t selected are called ‘the Unders’.

Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s documentary takes the viewers behind the stage. And it is a pretty cynical and sad vision.

No big surprise here, but the band is a well-oiled marketing creation. Besides the fact that it takes away from the artistic vision of music (which is another debate), it’s not a big problem in itself. Except it is, because it disregards the fact that there are human beings behind it. Moreover, they are young girls and it doesn’t seem that they are given the tools and structure to face the harsh show business. Furthermore, it actually looks like they are expected to find themselves their branding, to create their fanbase and avoid being an’ Under’.  The human beings involved in the process is what the filmmaker presents.

The movie could have been an upbeat one, with dreams coming true, lots of cuteness and glitters. It isn’t. It focuses on the ambivalent relationship between the members: they spend a lot of time together, are a band, but are also competitors. The bitterness also comes from the fact that hard work doesn’t always pay. It’s not the one that tries harder who surely gets the job. The whole situation makes them grow faster, and even if it’s on a different scale and environment, the questions raised are universal and relatable.

The director offers an interesting film. Of course, the direction the documentary goes in, the images it shows and the editing makes it subjective (like every documentary), but it isn’t “in your face” and it is nuanced. He manages to create a nice bond with the girls, and they appear authentic and touching. I would add a personal thumbs up for the ending, where Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit asks the group’s members how they would like the documentary to end. It was a smart and engaging ending, acknowledges the documentary for what it is and makes the girls more than just characters of the movie.

In conclusion, “BNK48: Girls don’t cry” is an enjoyable (yet not a feel-good) documentary. It opens up thoughts on idols, on the importance of image, on growing up, on competitiveness, on hopes and dreams.