Malady of Us [Tanakit Kitsanayunyong, Thailand, 2017] /// Maman Soori’s Case [Hossein Hejrati, Iran, 2016]

May 31, 2019

Anyone who has ever been left confused by the obscurity of their own dreams will be familiar with the inherent fascination and frustration of viewing Malady of Us; that longing to better recall, better decode the meaning of one’s own dreams, to discern their significance and discover why our subconscious causes certain events or places to recur across dreams spanning many years.

 

Director Tanakit Kitsanayunyong explores through art what it feels like when we awaken from sleep to find we have left our dreams unfinished and return to our waking lives, and the inherent frustrations of finding that a fulfilling conclusion lies forever beyond our slumbered reach, relating these sensations to ongoing political uncertainty in his native Thailand, as continual coups have spelled decades of political uncertainty.

 

Kitsanayunyong is adamant that an experimental approach to film editing offers the best form and methodology for transcribing dream sequences, and Malady of Us presents a very strong argument for this. Often the meaning of a dream is unclear, with seemingly unrelated images and sounds interweaving with one another. In film, the use of collage, superimposition, orchestral scores, and post-production colouring can all help to create a vision that is visceral yet abstract. In this way, Kitsanayunyong attests that film may offer the best source of mimicry for our unresolved dreams.

The editing choices throughout are highly creative, leaving behind an impression that is, at once, calming and unnerving like the throes of a dream that could still, at any stage, transition into a nightmare. Superimposed images beautifully convey the habit that dreams have of jumping from location to location, as unexplained spatial and temporal shifts take place. Shots are pasted neatly, one over the other, one filling the centre of the frame, whilst the other operates along the outer edges, slower and less obtrusive. This allows sequences to play out like a filmic game of Russian dolls, giving an imaginative alternative to vertical split screen and building a deeper interconnectivity between shots.

 

The startling score underpins the film masterfully, helping confirm the sense of pining after something lost. Kitsanayunyong likens each reiteration of a previously experienced dream as being like a remake of a film, like a reboot of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [Michel Gondry, US, 2004] starring you instead of Jim Carrey. Cinematic reboots seem to occur over and over on a continual loop as pre-existing stories, finding themselves reinterpreted and redistributed. The slender narrative given in Malady of Us through subtitles, combined with the sometimes melancholic images and undulating score, all give the sense of begging for a do-over that can never be achieved: “this version we can have submarine props in a movie”. Throughout, the film feels like it is harking after something that is either lost or never even existed to begin with, leaving behind an offering that is both confusing and nostalgic.

 

Taken in isolation, some of the cinematography is brilliant, with individual images emotionally moving in their aesthetic purity. The short opens on a mid-shot of a jellyfish floating through unnaturally bluish hues, confirming it as simultaneously recognisable and tangible, yet at the same time otherworldly, a fitting metaphor for our experience of dream states. From here, the viewer experiences the beautiful overhead shot of a rolling escalator, bringing with it the reassurance of perpetual machinery motion. Images such as this are then juxtaposed with incredibly human ones, such as a pair of legs stood under a shower.

 

Curiously, the film seems to break the fourth wall by asking, “are you tired?” before reminding the viewer the film is barely even halfway through. It is time to remake the film again, for our dream to reoccur, and so we return to an image of an abandoned car we have already witnessed. The dream is lucid, begging to be controlled, to be manipulated, but this obsession is unobtainable and a perfect remake impossible. Whilst the images on display are clearly very intimately associated with the filmmaker, the sensations they evoke are universally relatable.

 

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to understanding, and ultimately enjoying Malady of Us lies in numerous mistranslations and grammatical inconsistencies in the English subtitles. As unenviable a task as getting a near fluent written translation must be, Kitsanayunyong’s true message may unfortunately be beyond comprehension to those who cannot read the original Thai. Suspected mistranslations such as, “And now its 8 o’clock. Here is a time stopped like a pause video”, make following the director’s line of thought tricky, though far from impossible, perhaps opening the film up to a variety of interpretations as sentences are inferred and translated differently by different English speaking viewers.

 

In this way, sections of Malady of Us feel like the building of a relationship with someone over an unbridgeable language barrier. The relationship feels beautiful, special and unique. Yet, as though a true understanding of the other’s thoughts and intentions are destined to be forever beyond your grasp, important threads are lost forever in a deep sea of mistranslation.

 

Mistranslations in the film’s subtitles may frustrate some people, but in its unerring approach to making a film that feels like a dream sequence, Malady of Us has to be viewed as an overriding success.

Maman Soori’s Case is loosely based on one woman’s experience of working for the start-up, home delivery cooking service Maman Paz in Tehran, Iran. Using the real life business scheme started in 2013, customers order food from real housewives, helping them bring additional income into their household, evaluating the meal they have received using a star rating system.

 

Maman Soori’s Case explores the moral quandaries of user-reviewed feedback when a poor review leads to the firing of an employee, the eponymous Maman Soori. Director Hossein Hejrati initially presents the viewer with a hyper-realistic, fictionalized account of the case, before moving into mockumentary territory, showing an awareness of Brechtian concepts that share a likeness to both Dogville [Lars Von Trier, Denmark, 2003] and Synechdoche, New York [Charlie Kaufman, USA, 2008].

 

We open in Maman Soori’s kitchen, where she earns a living cooking meals for dispatch via Maman Paz (through one mid-shot fimed straight on, followed by another in profile, the audience receives a kitchen sink narrative approach to a depiction of her working life). Unfortunately, however challenging this may be to a cook in her old age, Maman Soori has lost her sense of taste, causing her to drastically over salt the food, which is then taken away for delivery.

 

From here we move into a mockumentary style as both recipients of Maman Soori’s food and her work place senior offer up their accounts of what went wrong, leading to Maman Soori’s dismissal. The result is thought provoking and humorous in equal measure. The film’s vocal track is particularly worthy of note, with astute listeners able to pick out a slight echo that persists across scenes. Whilst at first it seems as though this slight reverb could simply be the result of poor sound recording, its significance becomes clear as the film continues, serving a clear and important purpose.

 

Maman Soori’s Case is a film crafted with astonishing care, with each and every cinematic aspect contributing to its final purpose. Maman Soori’s kitchen is carefully framed within the shot, manipulating carefully the generic qualities of fictional narrative cinematography. Once the artifice of the film is discovered, and a mockumentary style adopted, the camera switches to a deliberately unsteady hand held style, helping the audience to identify a clear shift in tone. Particularly impressive also is the performance of the young child whom Maman Soori looks after whilst cooking. Whether or not the young boy is simply a prodigious talent or whether Hejrati simply has a penchant for successfully directing young actors, the naturalness of the performance really helps to pull the viewer into this world.

 

Maman Soori’s Case is an unexpectedly ambitious piece of short form cinema. It is at times both hilarious and thought provoking, and its final destination is one that keeps itself carefully hidden along the journey. It moves successfully through its many different styles and plot points, in what is simply an excellent display of Iranian filmmaking. 

‘Malady of Us’ and ‘Maman Soori’s Case’ were both films in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.

 

 

 

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