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Bangkok Post : You can run, but you can't hide

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Entertainment » Movie

You can run, but you can't hide

Published: 17/07/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Realtime

The Church, as history and Dan Brown's bestsellers show, wasn't the biggest fan of the Pisa-born Galilei Galileo, inventor of the telescope and theorist who proposed that the universe didn't pivot around planet Earth. So when a Thai film curiously named Dear Galileo (Nee Tam Galileo in Thai) requested permission to shoot at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is part of a church compound of the local archdiocese, a lengthy explanation was demanded. What, inquired the church, would a Thai movie have anything to do with Galileo?

Dear Galileo director Nithiwat Tharathorn

"We had to send our contact in Italy to explain to them," says Nithiwat Tharathorn, director of Dear Galileo, a Euro-trotting teen drama shot in England, France and Italy and opening next weekend. "We assured them that it's not a film about Galileo; it's just a film that quotes Galileo. They heard us and granted us the permission to have the Leaning Tower all to ourselves - but not for long, just for an hour in the morning, before the tourists came."

Galileo would be proud, and maybe blushing: his great work will now enter the pop-cultural sphere. The Italian's theories (at least two of them) will be featured not as scientific eurekas but as life-improvement mottos in Nithiwat's new movie about two Bangkok girls who choose to flee their problems back home and go backpacking around Europe. The same as when Galileo debunked the Earth-centred model, the film aims its punchline at the people who believe the world revolves around them.

"Galileo came later," says Nithiwat, 32, who six years ago was one of the six novice filmmakers who directed Fan Chan (My Girl) into one of the most successful Thai movies of all time. "My plan was to make a film about someone who thinks they are always at the centre, and that everything around them has to reconcile with their own needs - and when things don't work out, they think that the problem comes from someone else, and not from them. That's like believing that the Earth is the centre, and here I remembered Galileo."

That also gave Nithiwat and studio GTH a gimmicky title, Dear Galileo, and the challenge of having to shoot a film in several European cities, from London to Paris and Venice to Pisa. "The movie is also about these two young girls [Chutima Teepanart and Charinporn Choonkiat] who don't want to solve their problems but to run away from them. Many Thais believe that going abroad is to go live the free life they've always dreamed of, but the reality, of course, is different. You can't escape your problems. Everywhere you go, the problems are with you."

After My Girl, Nithiwat went solo with the 2006 coming-of-age romance Seasons Change, set entirely in a Thai music college (and quoting the music of Haydn and Beethoven). Dear Galileo is his second lone-ranger effort, and it's based largely on the director's brief stint in England (he co-wrote the film with a friend Sopana Chaowiwatkul).

Like his friends from the My Girl alumni, the sensational success of that movie - one of the landmarks of contemporary Thai cinema - hangs both like a halo and a raincloud over Nithiwat's career. After My Girl, each of the six directors went on to make his own movies and tried to establish his individual voice, but at the same time they seem unable to break free from the recipe of sweet, sunshine-and-rainbow drama that propelled My Girl. Nithiwat's Seasons Change is generally praised for its sensibility, though its depiction of adolescent lives remain somewhat rooted in cliche.

Dear Galileo, Nithiwat says, is his attempt to distinguish his voice even clearer by discussing real life rather than puppy love, even though he admits that he's still most comfortable making films about young people that send audiences out happy and optimistic.

"The structure, the rhythm, and especially the essence of the drama come from me, maybe more than in other films," says the director, responding to the query that the story in Dear Galileo sounds like a fantasy of middle-class teenagers who cure heartbreak by going backpacking.

"I don't have to force myself when I tell a story of two girls who go travelling around the places they hardly speak the languages. This is the story that I want to tell. And no, I don't really think it's the best idea that when you have problems at home, you should flee them and go travelling. The film is about the reality of the life once you're far away from home.

"It's about the fact that when you're injured, the wound stays with you. It may even become a scar, and it won't go away. Running away doesn't help."

Dear Galileo opens July 23.

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