Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Anousone Sirisackda's Only Love - A Rare Cinematic Gem from Laos

Laos’ “Only Love” (Khophienghak, 2010) comes from director Anousone Sirisackda, the scriptwriter of the first private film to screen in Laos since Laos began adopting communism in 1975, “Good Morning Luang Prabang” (screened in 2008). It’s about a fresh university graduate who returns to his scenic village to help out modernize farming methods. This includes the gritty financial requirements of his impoverished neighbors. Would his university degree matter? 

The film also underlines the hurdles that they encounter to exact change. As a side story, it follows Souvanh (Thanongxay Keoviengsamai) as rekindles his romantic relationship with childhood sweetheart Duoangchai (Jilapha Phompukdee). Unfortunately, Namphet, a spoiled brat, plots to derail Souvanh’s effort for the community and, in the process, take the girl away from Souvanh. It's rough around the edges, but the story is more of a social commentary about young minds affecting positive changes that benefit society – and may at times feel like a propaganda film. Nevertheless, you cannot deny the commercial feel of “Only Love” which has a winsome cast – Thanongxay Keoviengsamai and Jilapha Phompukdee.

The film making techniques seem antiquated, and the blocking is a bit stagey, but the story telling is earnest. After all, what do you expect from a script that had to go through a government arm before it gets greenlighted. As was told, a government officer actually had to be present during the actual film making to make sure that alterations aren't done. Such was the case in Ananda Everingham's "Sabaidee, Luang Prabang". The young lead, Thanongxay Keoviengsamai is a charming actor who delivers a sincere, if toothsome, performance. However, the narrative is hobbled by overt sentimentalism and glimpses of predictability. Regardless, getting this little gem shown in a commercial cinema like the Shangrila is a triumph in itself.  

I was fortunate to have chanced upon this movie at a festival in Shangrila earlier in the year. The country is still ruled by the stringent hands of censorship. Imagine, just uploading a trailer of this generally harmless film in Youtube needed the permission from the government. That just couldn't happen in the Philippines, could it? With Cybercrime Law starting to make its presence felt, who knows? I find it ironic then that this law had to come to fruition during the term of President Noynoy Aquino whose parents fought hard for Filipino freedom and the drollery of censorship. Some lessons are never learned by the younger generation. Isn’t this sad? 

Souvanh and Duoangchai rekindle their romance.

Picturesque Song River and the limestone cliffs of Vang Vieng.

Souvanh shares his modern farming and management expertise to his cash-strapped community. Will a bank  lend them  money for their agricultural projects?

Duoangchai teaches the children at a day care center in the community.

A third wheel appears to break the romance.

Namphet employs his family's riches to get to Duoangchai's good graces. He actually takes advantage of the girl's misfortunes.

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