Mekong 2030


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"An eclectic but, generally, engaging mix." | Photo: Courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

This five-film anthology, produced by the Luang Prabang Film Festival, in Laos, sees five filmmakers from different countries in the Mekong basin - which is home to 60 million - to ask them to imagine the near-future there, in 2030.

The results are an eclectic but, generally, engaging mix, ranging from straightforward fable to experimental and more overtly dystopian tales. The first, Soul River, directed by Cambodian filmmaker Kulikar Sotho, co-writing with Ian Masters, has the feel of a fable passed down through the generations. In her version of the future, overfishing has decimated the communities along the rivers banks, while flooding, caused by climate change has also caused devastation.

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A hunter stumbles on an ancient Khmer carving and, upon being discovered by a guard, the pair make a pact to carry it to the river together and take it to be sold. The pairing allows Sotho to voice an argument about development versus natural resources, which once the two men reach the river, becomes a three-way conversation that also takes in cultural heritage involving the fisherman's wife touching on the irony of guarding and, indeed, selling the past while having little thought for the future. This segment is marked out by cinematography that showcases the natural beauty of the river but which also emphasises the human's smallness against it - in particular a moment where it is picked out in a pool of light in an otherwise completely black screen.

The Che Brother, written and directed by Laotian Anysay Keola certainly chimes with the world we are currently living in as it imagines a dystopian future where a pandemic has swept the planet. A tiny proportion of the population have the blood antibody needed to survive, which turns one elderly woman into a commodity as her family squabble over her. A good idea that doesn't quite gel as well as it might, not least because the Che Guevara angle is underdeveloped, this is nonetheless an interesting way of approaching notions of scarce "natural resources" - in this case human blood - and the war for them, from an unexpected angle.

The third segment also struggles to strike as much resonance as Soul River, not least because the argument in the Myanmar-set The Forgotten Voices Of The Mekong, directed by Sai Naw Kham and written by Shunn Lei Swe Lee suffers from weak acting and a very on the nose argument. It tells the story of a mayor selling out his town to a mining company in the hopes of a brighter future but, inevitably, a much darker reality unfolds.

The anthology flows back into much stronger territory with Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong's The Line, a more experimental short, which considers an artist's struggle to convey, through art, the ecological weight of the river. This idea of capturing the She also raises the idea of animism - that all plants and animals have a living soul - which helps set up ideas that are further explored in the fifth entry, The Unseen River.

Vietnamese director Pham Ngoc Lan's film is the perfect choice to end the anthology as it also draws on ideas that are present in the other segments to tell a tale of the river that sees time become fluid as two couples, at different points in their lives and travelling in different directions on the river share encounters that touch on the importance of connection to the past and the natural environment. Lan's captures not only the natural landscape, but also a trip to a temple - where the neon-light highlighted manmade elements seem to sit incongruously against the more natural beauty of the river environment. He also gets points for the inclusion of a very soulful dog - and who among us would claim he doesn't have one? - another reminder of the importance of connection to the environment.

If not all the bends and eddies of this anthology are as good as one another, they nevertheless shine a light on an area that, in its current threatened state, deserves to be higher up the world agenda.

Reviewed on: 25 Feb 2021
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An anthology film comprising five short stories that envision the future of the Mekong River from different cultural perspectives.

Director: Anysay Keola, Sai Naw Kham, Pham Ngoc Lan, Kulikar Sotho, Anocha Suwichakornpong

Writer: Paul Charbonneau, Anysay Keola, Pham Ngoc Lan, Ian Masters, Kulikar Sotho, Anocha Suwichakornpong, Shunn Lei Swee Yee

Starring: Minh Chau, Hoang Ha, Rous Mony, Khamhou Phanludeth, Khamly Philavong, Ma Rynet

Year: 2020

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam


Glasgow 2021

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