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Political edge

Thai documentary Citizen Juling had a near-packed screening at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival

By: KONG RITHDEE
Published: 13/02/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Realtime

Still largely unseen in Thailand, the documentary Polamuang Juling (Citizen Juling) had a near-packed screening at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival on Feb 10. The 222-minute account of the tragedy that befell Juling Pongkanmul, a schoolteacher from Chiang Rai who was kidnapped and beaten to death by southern insurgents, is the sole work from Thailand that has been picked into Europe's premier cinefest known for its penchant for movies with a political edge.

Flying the flag: Citizen Juling was the only Thai movie invited to Berlin.

Citizen Juling was directed by Ing K and Manit Sriwanichpoom, and prominently features MP Kraisak Choonhavan as the narrator/chronicler of the southern unrest during the Thaksin Shinawatra years. It is difficult to judge how much German audience (there were a few Thais at the screening, at the festival's stronghold at Potsdamer Platz in the centre of Berlin) could follow the complex tapestry of the violent situation in the South, as well as the political context of 2004 and 2005, which climaxed with the coup d'etat on Sept 19, 2006, that overthrew Thaksin. But not many people left the screening despite the sheer length of the film (at a festival like Berlin, sometimes dozens leave the room midway if they find a movie unbearable, for whatever reasons).

One question from German viewers was whether the movie had been seen by Thais. To which Ing K, one of the directors, replied that Citizen Juling was shown, unofficially, at two schools in the South, as well as at the Bangkok International Film Festival last year. "When we go back," she continued, "we will submit the film to the censors, and hopefully we'll get the permission to release it in theatres."

Citizen Juling - a "cinema reality", as one of the festival officials calls it - was screened in the Forum section, a sidebar event that screens small yet adventurous movies. But even though this is the only Thai movie invited to Berlin, the image from Thailand isn't confined to the sad story of southern violence. In the Swedish film called Mammoth, by Lukas Moodyson, Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal plays a rich New Yorker who travels to Thailand and has encounters with, guess what, Thai prostitutes, and also with, guess again, an elephant.

Mammoth garnered quite a buzz before the festival began, but the film, picked for the top-tier Competition section, was largely trashed by critics for its shallowness. The movie is about an American couple, their Filipina maid, their child, and their trip to Thailand.

Moodyson, a talented filmmaker of Show Me Love and Lily 4-ever, said he was inspired to write the story when he travelled to Bangkok. And by the way, the Mammoth of the title has nothing to do with the vagabond pachyderms on our streets. Chances are slim that Mammoth will get a commercial release here.

The Berlin International Film Festival ends this Sunday, with strong titles tipped to win the Golden Bear being Alle Anderen by German director Maren Ade and About Elly, an Iranian drama by Asghar Farhadi.

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