Monday, February 13, 2017
Notes on Mon Rot Fai (Railway Sleepers) by Sompot Chidgasornpongse, Thailand: 2016-Berlin Filmfestival2017 IV.-Forum
At the beginning, the history of the first railway in Thailand is introduced by inter titles. A few moments later, a train departs from a station. We see it from the rear window of the last wagon. It is a very long scene. First slowly than faster and faster the train is leaving the landscape behind. It is like a long tracking shot backwards which evokes a strange feeling for spatial depth. When the train drives through a tunnel, the screen turns for a moment dark. After some minutes, the film has already won me over.
In the first half, the camera records only in a compartment for ordinary people (second or even third class). It is overcrowded by old and young people, people who are sleeping, people who are watching the landscapes or children doing their homework for school. When the train stops, people entering or leaving the train. Often sellers offering water, coffee, snacks or dime novels. Conductors are controlling the tickets, soldiers sometimes making checks on passengers. The monotonous sound of the train, the sound scape of human voices and the camera which seems to be right among the crowd evoke a very vividly atmosphere. Sometimes we as the audience seem to be a part of it. The flashing landscapes are like an universe of images in a Laterna Magica. But sometimes there is the physical and mental illusion of train journey. One can almost feel the vibrations. We are involved.
This strange and beautiful film offers both experiences of cinema and world. Sometimes we are just part of it, sometimes we are reflecting about it. Except near the end of the film when some passengers tell their story and beside the film is framed by very few narrations about the history of this railway we see mostly people who are literally doing nothing that gives us an idea about their story. But nevertheless even when no story is told, the stories are present behind dreaming or sleeping faces, behind small actions when people are just busy with themselves. Actually it is whole universe of stories often suspended by dream and sleep or just kept by the people for themselves. It is exactly the same namelessness of ours the spectators.
Later the film takes place in the more convenient compartments. Richer people are drinking and dining beside tourists. Conductors and servants are busy preparing the beds in the pull man coach or taking orders for the next breakfast. The human stories might be for most of the time hidden behind actions but sometimes they appear in micro fragments like the fast flashing landscapes you wee from the windows. The film has the beauty of a clear night sky full of stars where we can watch endlessly. But what we see is nothing more than very small shining lights.
Mon Rot Fai is one of these films for which film festivals once actually invented for. It might takes place in a far distant country, it might tell about strange cultures and landscapes but it often can bring both together: the exploration of another part of the world but at the same time it can be part of the own personal “Recherche du temps perdu” I mean cinema that can offer a peaceful co-existence of exploring the unknown and the strange but as well the own dreams and memories.
One part of myself was reflecting and thinking all the time how close trains and cinema are, referring to so many films by Yasujiro Ozu, the wonderful train scenes in Satyajit Ray´s Nayak (the Hero) or Hitchcock´s North by Northwest. And yes, Mon Rot Fai reminds me as well in more recent masterpieces of films about trains like James Benning´s RR or Catherine Martin´s film poem Océan.
But the other part of me turned into the child I once was who saw it´s first film in a cinema and who experienced the first time a train journey. Sometimes there are these miracles like Mon Rot Fai which move us for a limited time to far distant places but at the same time they bring us back where we came from.
15.02,Akademie der Künste 21.30
16.02, Arsenal 1, 20.00
17.02, Cinestar 8, 16.30
18.02 Cinemaxx 4 22.00