Red Aninsri; Or, Tiptoeing On The Still Trembling Berlin Wall

****1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Red Aninsri; Or, Tiptoeing On The Still Trembling Berlin Wall
"Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke plays with the very basics of film-making to great effect."

The title first. Aninsri Daeng. Red Aninsri; Or, Tiptoeing On The Still Trembling Berlin Wall. More complicated even than it seems, as there's an homage. Aninsri means something like 'inorganic', is homophonous to 'insi', 'eagle'. The Red Eagle is a figure akin to Batman, a Thai playboy millionaire who wears a costume to fight communism. The sets and suggestions of the title and the extra weight from context are indicative.

At the opening the film states it is "inspired by Thai cinema from the past". Helpful then to you to know that Thai cinema was almost universally dubbed. Why bother with location sound when you have limited equipment? After the fact, ADR. Throw into that though the separation of performance from speech, the business of recording and re-recording, of documentation and truth. Dialogue comes from an earpiece, repeated. Who is listening then? Who is speaking now?

Then add Cold War. Old aspect ratios and rounded corners. Surveillance and suspicion. The State will weaponise queerness for its own ends. To get close to Jit (Atikhun Adulpocatorn) a student activist, the authorities 'request' agent Ang (Sarut Komalittipong) disguise herself as a cisgender gay man. They offer her, if not a ticket out, then a document equivalent. A restaurant in a shopping mall.

We know how ruthless Red Eagle can be. In an opening sequence three red squares hide as much violence as their equivalent in Flamingo. The mission will not go smoothly. We know what she sounds like too - though her voice is not her own. Nobody's is.

Not, certainly, as seamlessly as the film juggles anachronism. The references to a 'great friend country', the cellphones, radios on folding tables and adjustments to the system. Around these layers of authenticity, like lens-flare in a videogame, artifacts of aging through neon and grain as certain as the right kind of paper stock soaked in tea. Details in quiet presence in protest footage, collateral scribbles, even the ownership of voices. As with Expensive Shit, another GSFF 2021 award winner, the patches on a jacket say more and differently than the one wearing it.

The jury for the Bill Douglas Award said it was a film that "left [them] all cheering in awe", "amused, surprised and charmed by its originality, both in form and content". They described it as "pure punk" and it is easy to agree. Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke plays with the very basics of film-making to great effect. Two (sets of vocal) chords and an attitude is a firm basis for something catchy, and from the off Red Aninsri compels.

There are perhaps no award winners at the festival for which I would not be tempted to reach for the word 'intersectional', but here it's kaleidoscopic. The ideological struggles of the Cold War are perhaps of greater scale than the personal struggles of identity, but to ensure their own survival States will engage in any intervention, even if not surgical. That feeling of the imprecise, the layers of dubbed voices, hidden selves, the artifice of cinematic traditions all combine into something that hooks as surely as any eagle's claw.

Reviewed on: 01 Apr 2021
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On an undercover spy mission, a trans woman disguises herself as a masculine man to lure a student activist, only to fall in love.

Director: Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke

Year: 2020

Runtime: 30 minutes

Country: Thailand

Festivals:

GSFF 2021

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