15:00 - 26th July 2015, by NEO Staff

Concrete Clouds

Set in the late ‘90s as financial turmoil ripped through Asia trampling all walks of life in its path, Lee Chatametikool’s feature directorial debut Concrete Clouds tells the story of two brothers, Mutt (Ananda Everingham) and Nic (Prawith Hansten), reunited in Bangkok following their father’s suicidal leap from his apartment building. The early stages, in the immediate aftermath of the suicide, do meander somewhat as the film finds its feet, but gradually through the brothers’ efforts to find and keep love, the central narrative takes centre stage.

Mutt’s attempts to rekindle his relationship with ex-lover Sai (Janesuda Parnto) and Nic’s besotted feelings for the somewhat psychologically broken, virtually abandoned and deeply lonely Poupee (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk) increasingly show the sometimes desperate need for human connection within communities fractured by ever-expanding cityscapes. The psychological price paid by those virtually forced by the city to view money as a god is underlined by passing references to drug use and prostitution as a means of emotional escape and physical survival.

Of the two love affairs, Nic and Poupee’s is by far the most engaging, helped greatly by Apinya Sakuljaroensuk’s deeply nuanced and pitch-perfect performance. She single-handedly makes the film’s ultimate statement on the importance of retaining a sense of self-worth without a word needing to be spoken, and well in advance of Sai reiterating it with dialogue in the closing minutes.

Cinematically, Concrete Clouds is fairly accomplished, albeit with a couple of caveats. The darker, subdued palette of colours used in present day scenes contrasts greatly with brighter flashback sequences of somewhat more hopeful times, accenting the grittiness of both the ongoing story and the emotional turmoil faced by the characters. However, while the copious use of hand-held camerawork mostly succeeds in increasing the feeling of realism, it has the opposite effect in more than one instance. The most noticeable example of this occurs as Mutt is informed by phone that his father is dead, with the camera repeatedly moving to an almost jarring degree and thus sharply pulling viewers away from the very immersion in ‘reality’ that it was meant to achieve. In retrospect, this was a scene that should have been utterly sedentary.

Karaoke style musical segments complete with Thai subtitles that change colour in time with the song lyrics create similar issues. Although in the early stages these apparent sing-along ‘invitations’ gently lighten the load of sombre narrative events in a fairly quirky, kitschy manner, they equally detract from what is by far the most poignant scene of the entire film – focused on the character of Poupee – and that is frankly a shame to the nth degree. The point is certainly made, but with very minor changes it could have been all the more moving.

Concrete Clouds confidently tells a worthy story, and the few instances of themes being repeatedly stated without need, in dialogue or indeed narrative conclusion, can largely be put down to a first-time feature director ensuring beyond question that what he has to say is heard by all.

Though somewhat guilty of planting themes firmly in your lap that are already right in front of your face, and containing more than one element that detracts from the film’s sense of realism, Lee Chatametikool’s directorial debut speaks of the need to feel human-to-human connection within a concrete jungle that is mired in financial turmoil and obsessed with expansion.
SCORE: 3/5
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