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“To die, to sleep — to sleep, perchance to dream” would be the perfect logline for Die Tomorrow, Thai director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s languid and occasionally intoxicating meditation on the many ways we perceive, fear and integrate death into our lives. Blending documentary and fiction techniques to form a non-narrative whole, the film features a mix of one-on-one interviews, on-screen statistics and scripted vignettes, following a set of mostly young characters as they sit around and discuss the realities of dying. For a movie about such a grim subject matter, the result can be surprisingly pleasant and even uplifting. But it’s also way too experimental to find much interest outside the festival circuit.
Shooting predominantly in a box-like format that recalls an Instagram frame, the director oscillates between handheld phone footage — especially in the opening scenes — and more composed sequence-shots where lenser Niramon Ross’s camera glides back and forth between characters engaged in slow-paced conversations. In between, Thamrongrattanarit throws a litany of figures at us, including the fact that people die every two seconds. A counter at the top of the screen then reveals to us how many people are actually dying over the course of the movie. (The result is well over 8,000 by the time the closing credits roll.)
That’s a fairly depressing assessment, yet Die Tomorrow is very much about how people can accept the possibility that they will die — tomorrow or any other day — while still leading full and meaningful lives. There’s one set of scenes devoted to a woman who needs a heart transplant and, despite her dire state, spends some quality time chatting with her brother. Another series of interviews involves a man who we learn is celebrating his 104th birthday, and for whom death may actually be a relief from the pain of living for so long. Other sequences involve a handful of young people for whom death seems to linger in the background like a distant but very real menace.
With no single throughline or arc, it’s not always easy to follow who’s who in the panorama of characters, nor to understand what’s at stake in each scene. Thamrongrattanarit, who has made both narrative (Heart Attack) and more avant-garde works (36), seems to be more interested in creating a sort of filmic collage where he tackles his subject from many angles at once. The result is perhaps stronger in parts than as a whole, although the serene, very Zen-like approach to death is a welcome antidote to your usual art house miserablism, recalling at times fellow Thai helmer Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century and Cemetery of Splendor.
Tech credits are refined for such a low-budget effort, with a dreamy score by Tongta and Pokpong Jitdee that sounds like a phantom piano playing somewhere in a faraway room.
Production company: Very Sad Pictures
Cast: Patcha Poonpiriya, Chutimon Chuengchaoroensukying, Morakot Liu, Chonnikan Netjui, Koramit Vajrasthira, Sirat Intarachote
Director-screenwriter: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit
Producers: Pacharin Surawatanapongs, Donsaron Kovitvanitcha
Director of photography: Niramon Ross
Production designer: Phairot Siriwath
Editors: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, Chonlasit Upanigkit
Composers: Tongta Jitdee, Pokpong Jitdee
Sales: Asian Shadows
In Thai, English
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