Saints and Violation

in 2nd World Film Festival of Bangkok

by Umberto Rossi

One of the oddest features of the Bangkok International Film Festival was the presence in the programme of Senso 45 (Black Angel), the almost pornographic film by Tinto Brass. Inspired by Senso (1954), the film had a record success with the public despite its outrageous inadequacy. Better work came from the section reserved for the Asian cinema: Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam.

A first observation concerns the strong weight in this cinematography of themes dealing with religion, ethnic conflicts and the condition of women. As far as religion is concerned, there were some films marked by a strong hagiographic level. The Philippine films were particularly susceptible, with works such as The Last Virgin by Joel Lamangan and Magnifico by Mayo J. Delos Reyes. The first shows the tragedy of a young girl who talks to the Madonna and seems to peform miracles. She is captured and exploited by an evil criminal organization. When she tries to run away, they rape her repeatedly, but without succeeding in jeopardizing her chastity. The second offers the portrait of an angelic boy who works hard to secure a worthy burial for his dying grandmother. Destiny wills that he, the victim of a road accident, will be buried in the coffin so laboriously built. The film mixes devotion and violence, without neglecting a shower of sex scenes.

The Thai cinema works on a different perspective, weaving love stories and fanatic terrorism — stories like that narrated by Nonzee Nimbutr in Okay Baytong in which a girl, coming from a Muslim family, falls in love with a Buddhist monk and has to guide him into secular life when his sister is killed by an Islamic bomb. A third position focuses on the hard conditions which have to be undergone by women in this part of the world.

The most interesting example of this comes from the Thai director Manop Udomdej with The Macabre Case of Prom Pi Ram. The film is based on a real story that happened at the end of the seventies in a small village. Here the whole masculine population sexually abuses a foreign girl. At the end of her ordeal the woman is strangled so as not to leave evidence of the misdeed. The crime is re-lived in the memoirs of a police officer who participates in the investigations and fails to resolve the crime because a local politician demands a cover-up. The film has some ambiguity in its reconstruction of the rapes, and the result is not entirely convincing. But the film reports on a story of sexual obsession during which a group of men behave like animals.