Monday, February 09, 2009

Sud sanaeha (Blissfully Yours)

Welcome to the jungle.

Sud Sanaeha (Blissfully Yours)
Written and Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Starring Kanokporn Tongaram, Min Oo, Jenjira Jansuda

Ever had that indecipherable feeling of dreamy watchfulness? You become a vigilant critic, every crease, every scent is memorized as if it were your last day on earth. You become a watchful romantic, haunted by disbelief at the clarity of someone's skin. You become heady with desire; the alliance of hormones and heart rush to the head, an assault of contentment.


In Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Blissfully Yours," bliss begins with escape. The movie starts all too suddenly, in the middle of a scene. A man (Min Oo) afflicted by a mysterious skin decease is being treated by a doctor. He is accompanied by Roong (Tongaram) and an elderly woman, Orn, played by Jansuda with a consistent undercurrent of slyness. We discover the relationships much later in the film. The man, Min, turns out to be an illegal immigrant that Roong, a young factory worker, pines for. Orn helps the lovers navigate through life in Thailand in exchange of cash, and in the afternoon of their visit to the clinic, she helps Roong out of work so Roong can spend time with Min. Orn lends them her car and the two drive out into the dusty open road.

45 minutes into the movie, as the road trip begins and the scenery changes from dry to lush, the movie credits roll out. Roong turns on the radio and a Thai version of Summer Samba (So Nice) plays. Roong puts lotion on her and Min's hands. Fingers become flirty and playful. Colors deepen, yellow to golden, green to deeper green. They step out of the car and walk into a forest.

Bliss begins. Bliss takes over.

The next hour of the film is a celebration of naked intimacy, of moments of abandon at once introspective and instant. Weerasethakul's steady shots frame Min and Roong's childlike euphoria with journalistic clarity yet even the simplest gestures---picking wild berries, Roong resting on Min's lap---are soaked in a languid dream-like state. A waking dream impossibly captured and almost impossible to fully grasp.

In the meantime, Orn is also in the forest frolicking with her lover when her husband's motorcycle gets stolen. Tom, a factory worker, chases after the thief, and Orn wanders into the forest. Where Weerasethakul's "Tropical Malady" took a surreal turn in its second act (a parable that admonishes desire?), "Blissfully Yours" flourishes with calm bewilderment.

Orn stumbles into Min and Roong by a stream; Orn says that somehow the trail disappeared and her wandering led her to them. The stream, clear and reflective, becomes release and salvation for the three characters. Again, Weerasethakul elevates the ordinary to wonder lust. I was specifically transfixed when Orn began to intensely watch her hands under the running stream, palms up then down, weaving, worm-like shadows running across them. And then a kind of miracle. A delicate distortion, the healing cold.

"Blissfully Yours" is a state of being on film that's nearing abstract. But once you pull away, once you let the scenery sing and watch the lovers fall asleep, the bafflement becomes an expanding sun in your stomach. Lightheaded, you desire, too, to lie on the bank and listen to the stream whisper:

Follow your bliss.


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