Tuesday 25 June 2019

On demand: "Die Tomorrow"

Die Tomorrow is another of those lyrical, ever-so-slightly-mysterious imaginings the Thai film industry now seems to specialise in, reaching as it does for a spiritual dimension than alters our perception of what a film can be. The logline would be A Short Film About Dying: it's a 75-minute patchwork (shroud might be the right word) stitched together from snippets of drama and documentary, photographs and any other mementos mori the writer-director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit could get his hands on over the five years he spent assembling it. (In that time, his earlier features 36 and Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy received UK theatrical releases.) Thus vérité footage of children being questioned on their perceptions of death sits side-by-side with dramatisations of the circumstances leading up to banal, everyday demises, an interview with a 102-year-old man who's outlived his wife and children alike ("I don't know how I've lived this long... Maybe it's a genetic thing, maybe it's some kind of error") and footage of the Challenger disaster. The blurring of fact with fiction is such that a late vignette that presents us with a daughter caring for her ailing father first strikes the eye as ominously close to the real thing, real suffering; only an elegant camera shift, pulling us away from this tableau as the man passes from this world to the next, reassures us that it has, in fact, been staged - yet Thamrongrattanarit seems to be asking why we need that reassurance in the first place. After thousands of years of it, why are we so scared to look death in the eye, or give it the time of day?

This filmmaker is most fascinated by death's everyday aspect. Though we hear (pardon the pun) passing talk of accidents involving planes and motorbikes, these aren't the spectacular ends the Final Destination series has trafficked in, rather a part of normal life, something with which his subjects, real and fictional, have to come to terms and make their peace. In an especially effective formal flourish, a stopwatch runs in the top left hand corner of the frame, counting not just how long the movie has been going for, but also how many people will have died worldwide in that time. (At an estimated 170,000 per day, it works out around 120dpm, or deaths per minute.) A ticking soundtrack makes audible the sand passing through the hourglass; the reduced aspect ratio Thamrongrattanarit shoots in at several places - no wider than that of an iPhone in portrait mode - suggests the darkness closing in on his characters from both sides. Enjoy yourself, the film advises: it's later than you think.

Can we enjoy Die Tomorrow? Given the morbid subject matter, it's obviously not a barrel of laughs, but it would be hard not to take something memorable away from it, as one would from a funeral. It could just be a mood: the rueful melancholy - a sense of what's been lost - that follows from the punchline to each of the film's dramatised segments: a shot of the same room in which characters have just been seen communing, now vacated of all life. It could be an understanding of death as the great leveller, or alternatively a cosmic injustice: take the sequence in which a man says his farewells to his hospital-bound girlfriend to catch a flight destined to go down with all hands lost. It could even be factual: you'll have the chance to pore over a chart of the ten most popular methods of suicide, complete with a relative index of agony calculated on the time it would take to die. Elsewhere, the non-activity and deliberately banal conversation of Thamrongrattanarit's characters - the time they conspicuously let slip through their fingers - leaves space for reflection and rumination over our own proximity to the grave. It risks the response "life's too short for this", naturally, but Die Tomorrow proves quietly profound, sad in an instructive way: a glimpse into the great beyond, and of the forces that govern our existence (and non-existence), it is, much like life itself, fragile, precious, and all over before you can really get a handle on it.

Die Tomorrow is currently previewing on MUBI UK, ahead of its theatrical release on July 26.

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