Malila: The Farewell Flower **
Malila: The Farewell Flower **
Starring: Sukollawat Kanarot, Sumret Muengput, Anuchit Sapanpong
Director: Anucha Boonyawatana
Grief takes many forms and regardless of whatever culture we live in, the process of reaching the eventual acceptance of loss is a difficult and heartbreaking odyssey. The central tenets of most world religions revolve around the cycle of life and death, and in Malila: The Farewell Flower, a Thai film released this week in the UK by TLA Releasing, we see this process through the eyes of a young Buddhist man.
Shane (Kanarot) owns a farm in rural Thailand, where he has been cultivating jasmine flowers because his now ex-lover lover Pich (Sapanpong) loves to create elaborate sculptures from the blooms and leaves. When Pich returns unexpectedly, Shane’s joy at their reunion is soured when he reveals that he is dying of cancer. In an attempt to balance the karma in Pich’s favour, Shane joins a Buddhist monastic order, where he is tutored about the nature of death by an experienced monk (Muengput).
This is a film of two distinct halves. The first revolves around the relationship between the two men and their feelings for each other, while the second is all about Shane’s experiences with the monks. What is quite striking is seeing the sexual tolerance from the Buddhist community, who see Pich as Shane’s legitimate partner, demonstrating what marks them out as the only major religion in the world to accept same-sex relationships. However, despite being an interesting snapshot of homosexuality in a different culture, the film severely suffers from Inactivity Syndrome – the terrible affliction of much LGBT Cinema in which nothing really actually happens.
The film is a meditation on death; with emphasis on ‘meditation’. Just like meditation, it is slow, obsessed with detail and happy to languish for long periods on inactivity. Of course, the film features plenty of meditation too, with the monk steering Shane to focus for long periods on the nature of death… which at times features some pretty gory images of the decomposition of human corpses. It raises questions about the nature of humanity; are we anything more than just flesh? When we die, can we just cease to exist? But as the camera stares unabashed at the decomposed genitals of a military insurgent, you can’t help but wonder what the point of love and life is in the first place. Which, I suppose, is what the director was aiming for in the first place.
This is a film that revolves around a question rather than a plot. It is philosophical contemplation rather than narrative and there is definitely skill in its execution, but there is no entertainment to be had here. It requires patience in abundance and while the two leads capably hold the frame with their tangible chemistry, their story is smaller than the director’s need to explore the very nature of life. The characters are just guests in the world of the film; humans are part of the life cycle, mere moments of sentience amongst the plants and minerals and rocks. The sculptures Pich creates are offerings for good karma; sturdy yet delicate, already dying when still being constructed. They are, just like everything else, only temporary.
Malila is a thoughtful piece that will make you ruminate upon some pretty big questions, but in dwelling on the insignificance of life, it cancels its own existence out. Where most films endeavour to give significance to a character’s story, this does nothing of the sort and pales into insignificance as a result.