Krabi, 2562, Ben Rivers, Anocha Suwichakornpong, GB/Thailand 2019, V'19, Features

Ben Rivers signs as co-director of “Krabi 2562”, a fusion of documentary and fiction very typical for his films, and yet although the idea came from him – “ceci n’est pas un film de Ben Rivers”.  Despite of Rivers’ trademark slow-cinema aesthetics, Anocha Suwichakornpong’s handwriting is far more recognizable, particularly in terms of the topic she has been dancing around since her debut feature “Mundane History” (2009); as a loose core of the story is the exploration of problems that Thai filmmakers are facing in their homeland.

Not easy to follow but beautiful to watch, “Krabi 2562” can undeniably be described as a directorial match made in heaven, with an insider and an outsider joining forces to take a look at the popular Thai tourist destination Krabi in the form of unconventional, non-scripted disruptive storytelling. Instead of showing the average tourist destinations and by serving only tiny pieces of information about local attractions and history though the film, the authors opt for a wild fusion of different timeframes, sub-plots and locations in service of a story that centers around the disappearance of a location manager who came to Krabi to explore the area. A simple plot can’t be expected neither from Rivers nor from Suwichakornpong, which is a promise kept and sealed. At one moment funny or dreamy, and at the next soberly documentarist, “Krabi 2562” is one of the most original films of the year.

Rivers’ humour shines on a couple of occasions, notably in scenes shot at the beach showing the making of a TV commercial which unexpectedly opens the secret door to another (pre-) historic dimension, but it‘s Suwichakornpong’s curiosity that takes over and steers the narrative in a mysterious direction. The viewer gets immersed in a number of interwoven micro narratives, bouncing back and forth from the present to the past, and from one corner of Krabi to the next. As one of the intermediators between the Buddhist year 2562 – the one we know as 2019, and the ancient time is the recurring appearance of mudskipper, a so called “walking fish” whose evolutional transition remains mysterious and incorporates the old and the new.

Wherever the story of “Krabi 2562” lands, it never drops the quality of its visual magic caught on Super 16mm by Ming-Kai Leung and Ben Rivers, be it in long takes of the coastal line with its mangrove trees and hidden caves, the portraits of the local people talking about their past, or the investigation of the curious crime case.

“Krabi 2562” by Ben Rivers and Anocha Suwichakornpong, GB/Thailand 2019, V’19, Features

The film opens with schoolkids reciting their morning pledge before the first class, and it’s a balmy introductory lesson in Thai culture with verses praising the nation, religion and the monarchy. “The king always rules for the happiness of the people”, says the teacher before she joins the children in singing of the Royal anthem. But this is about the only indirect lesson one can expect from the film that intelligently jumps from one reality to other, from the life lived by the local population and the clichés fed to tourists.

Crumbs from Krabi’s cultural heritage are given through a tourist guide’s “story factory” about the Phra Nang Cave, one of the most frequented attractions in the region.  The same guide will serve as one of the key witnesses in the crime investigation, being one of the last people who saw the location scout alive. The two women are previously seen exchanging thoughts about the importance of tourism for the economy, and at one point, the young guide hints at the importance of the first Krabi Art Biennale in 2018, an attempt to turn the popular Thai destination into more than just a holiday-in-the-sun attraction. That particular detail has a hidden self-referentiality, since the film was made in time to be ready for the Biennale.