Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 11, 2016 8:20 pm 
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A sexy supernatural love story about a bullied gay loner and his new boyfriend

The most memorable images in this handsomely photographed Thai film are the lichen-like stains, repeatedly visited, on the walls of a bathroom and swimming pool, which form themselves into shadowy dark humanoid shapes, half stain, half giant Rorschach blot, that make the idea that there are ghosts about that capture people start to seem convincing. And, as Boyd van Hoeij wrote at Berlin in Hollywood Reporter, this being the country of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, we have to take such claims very seriously.

The moody, compulsive and quite wonderful English mini-series "London Spy" begins with an intense gay love story and turns into a spy story and a murder story. Anucha Boonyawatana's much smaller but still beautiful debut feature The Blue Hour begins with the tryst, arranged online, of two gay youths, the delicate ephebe Tam (Atthaphan Poonsawas) and bolder, more cheerful Phum (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang) who have sex at the derelict swimming pool. Their liaison leads to an attempt to cover up a terrible crime they did not commit. With its trade-journal savvy Hollywood Reporter is reductive, but accurate to a degree, when it describes the action as "A puppy-dog romance ambushed by genre jolts." Van Hoeij means this as a plus, and indeed we love those genre jolts. Mixing genres is oft a powerful catalyst for pleasure. But the blend isn't as potent in The Blue Hour as it is in "London Spy."

Even if his name is nearly as hard to spell, Boonyawatana isn't Weerasethakul. And there's no harm in that. They're doing quite different things. Unlike his Cannes-winning colleague, Boonywatana starts out overtly homo. His prelude could be the prolonged and unusually well executed intro to a gay Asian twink porn film. But once the couple get to know each other they become a kind of team, two against the world, roaming lost places, revealing bits of themselves, and getting into trouble. Tam is a delicate and pretty gay boy who's been beaten by his father and left bleeding on the football by abusive fellow students. Phum, who's chosen the deserted pool because it's secluded, is taller and solider and flashes a bright smile, but isn't accepted by his parents either. His talk of ghosts may lead Tam down a path where his hold on reality falters. Phum comes to Tam's house and sneaks up on the roof to avoid Tam's disapproving mother (Duangjai Hirunsri). Tam steals things, and may have committed a crime, or imagined it. They fantasize about living in their own kingdom on garbage strewn land. They seem to be getting into really dangerous territory when they negotiate with some rough characters for help in carrying off a hit, but Boonyawatana looses his rhythm at times and it's not so clear where things are going.

Nonetheless The Blue Hour is an accomplished mood piece that shows the director as one to watch, even if he could have done with sharper editing and trimming. There's a bit too much nervous prowling around scared accompanied by moody music. The restrained digital cinematography, which ranges from romantic closeups to austere Asian-style static camera work, remains a plus, with good use of low natural lighting to fit the title's reference to dawn and dusk twilight. The "blue hour" turns literal and the screen is drenched in blue-filtered light at numerous points. Though Tam and Phum's relationship becomes more affectionate than steamy, the boys remain eye candy for gay viewers throughout.

The Blue Hour/Onthakan, 97 mins., debuted in the Panorama section of the Berlinale 9 Feb. 2015. Other festivals followed including Hong Kong, Seattle, Taipei, Fantasia, Fukuoka, Stockholm and Belgrade. Strand Releasing brings out the film on DVD 8 Mar. 2016, which can be preordered from 9 Feb from Strand here.

Theatrical release announced for 8 April 2016 at MoMA, NYC.

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