Complete first draft for In Review Online.
Over the past twelve years, Anocha Suwichakornpong has developed one of the more elusive and protean bodies of work on the festival circuit. Seven years after her auspicious debut, Mundane History (2009), a destabilizing, achronological story of the burgeoning friendship between a sullen upper-class young man and the male nurse taking care of him, she made one of the most notable breakout features of the decade. 2016’s By the Time It Gets Dark begins as an examination of Thailand’s history of student resistance to dictatorship before pinwheeling off to form a dense network of embodied memories, parallel lives, and metafictions. Her next feature, Krabi, 2562, a 2019 collaboration with Ben Rivers, pared back some of these impulses in favor of a documentary hybrid dedicated to the exploration of the eponymous island. Now, with her new feature Come Here, which premieres in the Forum section of this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Anocha has opted for what appears at first glance to be an even slighter approach, albeit one that conceals a whole host of complexities. Running a slender sixty-eight minutes (including five minutes of credits), the film principally follows a group of four theatre actors from Bangkok, who embark on a getaway to a remote forest. Their stay is almost deliberately desultory and brief, mostly spent on what looks like a floating cabin docked on a river, as they drink, sunbathe, and engage in conversations that very slowly dole out initially withheld background information. Towards the end of the film, the actors stage this journey in a black-box setup, constructing a set of the cabin and recreating their conversations and activities almost word for word. Intertwined with this is a narrative as deliberately abstruse as the main plot is straightforward, focusing on a young researcher who appears to be undergoing a similar journey as the actors. However, this trip is much more eventful and marked with a mysterious tropical malady, complete with a startling morphing effect. Such a summary doesn’t quite convey the strangeness of Come Here, and of Anocha’s approach to the material. She largely avoids intercutting of these storylines, letting them play out in discrete chunks, and storylines and even characters float in and out of their own narratives; at one point, one of the actors even pops up in the same scene as the young woman without explanation. Shooting in 1.33:1 and muted black-and-white, Anocha generally favors long shots, but her technique varies, going so far as to include a few split screens along the middle of the y-axis of the frame, which let vast swaths of trees bleed into a city landscape, or enable a projection of one of the actors in the forest to shadow an image of her sleeping in bed. That visualization of realities blending into each other helps illuminate the concealed thrust of Come Here, as does a protracted centerpiece scene where the actors imitate animals to the point of macho exhaustion. Both narratives, in their intimations of fluid identities — both performed and genuine — clashing with quotidian realities, propose the forest as a realm of possibility and mystery, where performance can allow a person to move into a baser form of existence, something which the actors try to recapture in some form back in the city. Of course, this is not a novel framework, but what distinguishes Anocha’s approach is the deliberate deemphasis of this, almost to the point of imperceptibility. This can result in a somewhat hazy, unsatisfying experience of viewing, particularly in how loosely defined the characters can feel. But Come Here certainly feels of a piece with Anocha’s previous work, particularly in how difficult it is to pin down, and how it seems to transform in the mind. The surface pleasures are certainly there, but always, whether in the wild disjunctions or unexpected aesthetic developments, there is the suggestion of something lurking just below the water.