Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 26, 2023 12:35 pm 
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School revolt in Thailand

This is a clinically cold, rather naive piece of filmmaking, doubtless meant to be dry and satirical, but in its implications no doubt deadly serious for those concerned. Its primary inspiration and purpose is to depict the "Bad Student" movement in Thailand (largely led by young girls!) in opposition to authoritarianism and excessive discipline, including caning, in Thai schools, and it's inspired by the movements A Manual on How to Survive School. It takes place since the pandemic, so at least at first, everyone is wearing masks. It includes real material as well as fiction.

It's a little hard to see how Arnold (Korndanai Marc Dautzenberg) fits into this picture. He is a high school senior who has won a math prize and is very smart and has spent 15 months studying in the United States but he could care less about school and is defiant to the chief disciplinarian of the school, the plump Mrs. Wanee (Niramon Busapavanich), who canes students and also checks their clothes, hair length, etc. at the school entrance. She cuts hair that's too long, a violation of privacy and rights.

School is completely corrupt. Parents bribe the teachers as a matter of course so their kids pass.

The tall, confident and shaven-headed Arnold is expecting to go to college abroad on a scholarship (a complicated project the film neglects to depict), yet he sleeps in class, vapes and smokes, and collaborates with Mr. Bee (Winyu Wongsurawat), the owner of a cram school, providing a false endorsement for money, then helping rich students cheat for money. When the student movement against school "dictatorship" comes, Arnold doesn't participate. Given his lack of motivation it's hard to see him as a star student, but he's not a rebel either.

The school principal is a bland Machiavellian who only wants to maintain the school's high reputation and good enrollment. Mr. Bee of course is a lower level mercenary, a more open part of the corrupt system. Arnold isn't really a model student but just a smart kid who's directionless, who cheats, drinks, and smokes and is without future plans. But he decides not to be a "signaler" for Mr. Bee again, and it beginning to be discontented. His conscience is awakening, partly because his own father – a French citizen, – was sent into exile for publishing satires of the government.

As John Bleasdale notes in a review for BFI, the tone is mixed here, the humor and dryness countered by images of red wounds on kids' legs from caning and real images of government repression.

This is a film about an important subject whose chilly mise-en-scene, amusing performances and colorful inter-titles recommend it particularly to the interest of all those concerned about human rights and democratic edcucation.

Arnold Is a Model Student, 83 mins., debuted at Locarno Aug. 5, 2022 and has shown at many other international festivals. Screened for this review as part of the Mar. 29-Apr. 9, 2023 New Directors/New Films series at MoMA and Film at Lincoln Center.

Saturday, April 8
2:00pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater (Q&A with Sorayos Prapapan)
Sunday, April 9
7:30pm, MoMA T2 (Q&A with Sorayos Prapapan)

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