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In his first fictional feature, Jakrawal Nilthamrong has delivered an evocative, engaging and erudite mix of the visual and narrative inspirations drawn from both his own family history and his exposure to artistic and socio-political trends around him.
Just like the work of his fellow School of the Art Institute of Chicago alumnus Apichatpong Weerasethakul – the pair collaborated on the 2008 video installation Black Air – Jakrawal’s Vanishing Point fuses a narrative based on traditional spiritual beliefs with imagery rooted in modern arthouse aesthetics.
Apart from the Richard C. Sarafian countercultural cult hit with which Jakrawal’s film shares its name – a borrowing most probably down to the prominence of cars and crashes in the story here – Vanishing Point also contains a smattering of references from a few other classics from the “New Hollywood” era, ranging from the odd nods to the paranoia-drenched thrillers of Klute and The Conversation to the grand visual gestures of ‘Michelangelo Antonioni s American forays of Zabriskie Point and The Passenger.
But the title could also be taken literally. With the trajectories of its seemingly very different leading characters – a young journalist, a middle-aged businessman and an old monk – somehow morphing into one as the story progresses, Jakrawal, a practising Buddhist, might be hinting at the transient nature of mortal existence, and how each incarnation would somehow disappear into another a perennial cycle. Ingeniously, Jakrawal channels this point by shaping such ideas in the form of a slow-burning thriller, with the viewer kept guessing at what the connections are between these characters traipsing across crime scenes, sleazy motels and Death Valley-like landscapes.
Surprisingly, Vanishing Point has generated limited buzz after winning one of International Film Festival Rotterdam’s three top prizes in January. Since then, the film’s presence is mostly confined to new talent competitions at East Asian events, with its spring appearance at the Hong Kong International Film Festival and then a berth in Singapore’s Southeast Asian Film Festival preceding its bow at the Taipei Film Festival this week. While the gloom might be too slow and suffocating at times, Vanishing Point is not exactly excessively oblique, and its screenings at the Moscow and Wroclaw film festivals should secure Jakrawal’s technique and storytelling an increased exposure he deserves.
While boasting a wide array of characters, Vanishing Point is largely structured around three men. First off is the journalist (Drunphob Suriyawong), who is first seen observing a reconstruction of a rape-murder of a schoolgirl in the woodlands outside a village, and then is shown patronising a prostitute (Suweeraya Thongmee) at a motel. Somehow lurking in another room is a middle-aged man (Ongart Cheamcharoenpornkul), who is clandestinely video-taping the trysts; as he emerges back into the light, he divides his time between chilly meals with his family, overseeing the condom factory he owns and an affair with his accountant. Meanwhile, the man seeks spiritual guidance from an elderly reverend (Chalee Choueyai), who in turn talks about his dream of becoming a swish, young engineer who harbors both carnal and murderous thoughts towards a woman he loves.
The unfolding of these components are all laced and linked by short, eerie images which will eventually bring the threads together. As objects, observations and acquaintances recur across these three different character strands, Jakrawal is hinting at how the individuals might be just different phases of the psyche of just one, simple, ordinary man – a young firebrand turns disgruntled in his middle years, and finally becoming at peace with himself in old age.
By jumbling up the timeline, Jakrawal has made the parable palatable; somehow, Vanishing Point is a spiritual lesson dressed up as a game where the plot points are left as dots unjoined. But the beauty of the film lies in the progress of how the clues are revealed, with Phuttiphong Aroonpheng’s camerawork, Pakorn Musikboonlert’s score and Chalermrat Kaweewattana’s soun designer elevating Vanishing Point to ethereal heights.
Production company: Mit Out Sound Films
Cast: Ongart Cheamcharoenpornkul, Drunphob Suriyawong, Chalee Choueyai, Suweeraya Thongmee
Director: Jakrawal Nilthamrong
Screenwriter: Jakrawal Nilthamrong
Producers: Chatchai Chaiyon, with Jakrawal Nilthamrong, Phuttiphong Aroonpheng
Director of photography: Phuttiphong Aroonpheng
Production designer: Vikrom Janpanus
Editor: Jakrawal Nilthamrong
Music: Pakorn Musikaboonlert
Sound designer: Chalermrat Kaweewattana
International Sales: Diversion
No rating; 100 minutes
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