The Rohingya community of displaced refugees has earned the unflattering reputation of being the most persecuted people in the world. No country wants the Rohingyas. They are looked down upon with suspicion and hatred, and are being slaughtered with more velocity than the Jews were during the holocaust. Given this grim and bleak scenario, Thai director Phuttiphong Aroonpheng has woven a dream-like layer into a plot about a near-dead refugee buried in a forest of makeshift graveyards who is rescued by a local fisherman. The wise film teaches us the value of humanism, compassion and universal love at a time when we need it the most.
However, the film is blessedly liberated of a sanctimonious tone. The noble deeds are never done in a self-congratulatory tone. There is a flow of karmic inevitability even in its bleakest moments. The two main actors do not look or behave like actors. It’s as though two real people, strangers washed ashore together by destiny, were captured by a hidden camera.
Surprisingly the film’s cinematography is not by the director who is one of the world’s most brilliant cinematographers but by the equally brilliant Nawarophaat Rungphiboonsophit. If street rap were to be fused with Elizabethan poetry in a visual form, this film is what we would get. The first-half when the fisherman (Wanlop Rungkamjad) brings the refugee (Aphisit Hama) back from the dead, is tender, compassionate and brimming with an unspoken empathy. The two soldiers of solitude never speak to each other. They don’t need to.
To be honest, the film, as it progressed grew way too surreal and dense, as dense and deep as the forests which serve as a metaphor for the mysteries, vicissitudes and vagaries of mortality. The ending provided no conclusive send-off. It is true that in life there are no definite conclusions. But cinema must surely offer us that luxury! Ray leaves us with many beautiful questions. But the film’s biggest USP is its sound design. Never have I heard the sounds of nature, the sea, insects and animals so vividly and with such authenticity in a film. Ray hates artifice as much as Ray, the Bengali master-creator. It falls short of greatness. But it’s still a remarkable achievement.