"Wonderful Town": Senses of Cinema By Diego Brodersen

in 12nd Pusan sieh Busan - der frühere Name ist Pusan

by Diego Brodersen

What is it that makes a film a whole new experience, a journey to unexplored lands you didn’t even know existed in the first place? It’s a difficult question, and its possible answer is not an easy one to find. Wonderful Town – one of the most exciting films in the impressive “New Currents” section of this year’s Pusan International Film Festival — is such a film, its apparently simple plot leading us into a complex and revealing investigation of human life, love and death.

Writer and director Aditya Assarat’s second feature follows a young architect from the big city to a small town in Thailand, where he must oversee the building of a new luxury seaside hotel. In doing so, he must spend his days at another hotel, one of the oldest in town, run by a young woman for whom he will inevitably fall in love. Inevitable indeed, since a feeling of tragic fate seems to evolve in the course of a few weeks, impending menaces that will explode into full violence near the end of the story.

One of the most assured aesthetic triumphs of Wonderful Town is the construction of an apparently effortless, almost tactile sexual tension between the young couple, a relationship that will evolve from timid glances and small talk to a fully developed erotic and emotional link. But if the place where the story is set is haunted by the memory of a recent tsunami, a force of nature that destroyed the foundations of the town and the lineage of the woman’s family, both physically and spiritually, so is their love affair doomed to fail. This town is not so wonderful, as the title suggests, after all: the beautiful landscapes might have a hidden mirror image: the townspeople are not prepared to accept alien intervention in their lives.

Placing itself on the other side of so many contemporary overwritten, psychologically oriented films where everything needs to be fully explained from beginning to end, director Assarat’s opus prefers a much subtler sense of mystery, like a tale told in a quiet voice to a willing audience. Or, in other words, a combination of sights and sounds that chooses not to say things, but to let the spectator discover the secrets hidden behind the surface of its more obvious motifs. Wonderful Town is one of those multi-layered films that offer many possible readings, but that never pretends to be a metaphor or allegory that the audience needs to decode. Not even the tsunami theme, which seems to haunt the characters right from the start, is underlined.

Moving between the abstract and the very concrete, the film makes full use of location shooting, framing nature and buildings alike in a very sophisticated and mysterious way, beautifully shot but never picturesque. Much of the movie’s strengths lie precisely in that nuanced observation of things and bodies through the camera lens, an exposition of textures, colors and movement that begins and ends with the ever- present sea water. It could be that Wonderful Town is a film that will touch different chords in different spectators, being many diverse films contained in one.