By the Time It Gets Dark

Review by Eve Watling

Directed by

Anocha Suwichakornpong

Starring

Achtara Suwan Apinya Sakuljaroensuk Arak Amornsupasiri

Anticipation.

Anocha Suwichakornpong’s debut Mundane History won praise; we’re excited to see her second effort.

Enjoyment.

This dreamlike journey into the imagination is never predictable.

In Retrospect.

It could do with more structure underneath the free-flowing streams of consciousness.

Anocha Suwichakornpong’s dreamlike investigation into the history of activism in Thailand is well worth catching.

Young documentary maker Ann (Visra Vichit-Vadakan) interviews the ringleader of a real-life 1976 Thai student protest, which was suppressed with horrific brutality by the military. Ann struggles with her role in representing the movement, questioning her own work in the face of a woman she sees as ‘living history’. This is the deceptively simple premise of By the Time It Gets Dark, the experimental second feature from Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong, but it doesn’t stay deceptively simple for long.

Walking in a nearby forest, Ann has a strange, ‘Alice in Wonderland’-style encounter which shifts the narrative into a lucid dream state. Stylistically, the film rides the wave of recent Thai independent cinema as pioneered by the Palme d’Or-winning director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The story wanders across space and time, cutting seamlessly from realism to fantasy to naked self-reflexivity.

Thailand’s traumatic history is touched upon, albeit obliquely, as the Thai censorship board is notoriously tetchy when it comes to depicting state-endorsed violence. Although these elements may seem familiar, the director brings her own unique concerns into the mix, feeding her restless angst through a vividly hallucinatory filter. Scenes are replayed with different actors; characters shift personas – like Ann, they seem unsure of themselves and their place in the world.

Thailand’s class structures are acutely observed as we meet a pop star
and his good-looking friends. In the background is a young woman who is initially seen working in a countryside coffee shop, and later reincarnated as a hotel cleaner and a nun. Occasionally, the film feels a little too loose – it tries to encompass too much.

Suwichakornpong doesn’t quite have the same architectural precision that allows Weerasethakul’s cinema to veer off into bizarre territory while retaining a coherent shape. Nonetheless, it’s an elegant look at modern Thailand, and a wonderfully ambitious piece of filmmaking.

Published 19 Jun 2017

Tags: Anocha Suwichakornpong Thai Cinema

Anticipation.

Anocha Suwichakornpong’s debut Mundane History won praise; we’re excited to see her second effort.

Enjoyment.

This dreamlike journey into the imagination is never predictable.

In Retrospect.

It could do with more structure underneath the free-flowing streams of consciousness.

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