By Kim Voynar

Nymph Directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang

Screening in the “Visions” section of TIFF, Nymph, by Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (something of a name among the arthouse crowd) is a languid, meticulously paced tale of love, infidelity and betrayal that’s kept from being truly compelling by a dramatic structure that’s top-heavy with many moments of nothing leading up to a faster-paced final 30 minutes or so.

It’s a shame, because I was drawn into the film immediately by the stunning opening scene, a lengthy, fast-paced single shot tracking a pair of rapists chasing their prey through the woods, and their supernatural undoing. Unfortunately, the opener doesn’t set the pace of the rest of the film, which takes the term “deliberate pacing” to extraordinary measures that exceeded the patience of a good many folks at today’s press and industry screening.

Visually, it’s all very lovely; Ratanaruang clearly has a photographer’s understanding of natural light and shadow and makes ample use of this talent throughout the film, but structurally, given that the film centers around a married couple who’s barely on speaking terms, things seem to drag on and on for a good deal of the film before it gets more interesting.

The story centers around Nop (Jayanama Nopachai) and his wife May (Wanida Termthanaporn), who is enmeshed in a long-term affair with her boss, Korn (Chamanun Wanwinwatsara). We can see that May is a woman in conflict … she cannot sleep without sleeping pills, for instance, and requests her husband hold her in bed though she refuses to make love with him (“Sorry honey, I have a headache” is apparently universal among wives who don’t want to have sex with husbands).

Nonetheless, May and Nop go on a camping trip in the woods, presumably so that Nop can do some photographing of things natural; Nop finds himself drawn to a mysterious tree, and before you can say, “supernatural,” Nop disappears without a trace.  Several days later, Korn picks May up and returns her to her home, and the next morning when she wakes, she finds Nop is back, asleep on the couch, dirty, dishelved and confused about where exactly he’s been. For the record, he has the remarkably good excuse of having been lost in throes of ecstasy induced by a wood nymph.

And from there things drag on for a bit, as May decides she really does still love her husband, Nop disappears into the woods again, and May and Korn go after him. Although the pacing is deadly, this is where the film actually gets philosophically interesting as it delves into ideas around marriage, love, infidelity and betrayal (and raises the ever-popular question: does being fed upon by a supernatural woodland creature constitute cheating on one’s spouse?).

There’s a heavy tone of “a cautionary tale” around May’s infidelity to Nop, Korn’s infidelity to his wife, and Nop’s infidelity (with the wood nymph) to May. It’s not so much a romantic triangle as it is a romantic loop-the-loop all tangled up with mud, roots, and sap as life-blood. Is there perhaps a bit of political morality of the environmental sort here as well, in Nop’s admonition of Korn that he and May have hurt the wood nymph, who never did anything to them? I expect so, but it’s not overly heavy-handed if there is.

There are certain things in the film that feel dramatically off — although it’s entirely possible that they are culturally specific references that simply elude me; for instance, the assumption that Nop has been dragged off by a wild animal, or perhaps taken by a forest spirit, rather than the investigators looking at whether his wife might have had something to do with his disappearance. a

Also — and I realize that I’m perhaps being a wee bit of a pansy of an urban girl here, but is it common in Thailand for people to traipse about in heavily wooded areas wearing skirts, shorts, and flip flops? I say this is someone deathly paranoid of things like ticks and spiders and snakes and such, and don’t even venture out for a hike on the carefully manicured trails near our house without jeans, long socks, long sleeves and an abundant cloud of insect repellent, but still. Who wanders around in the woods barefoot, at night?

There are spiritual elements to the film that I liked quite a bit, and visually, there are some interesting things going on as well, particularly with the symbolism of entertwining tree roots and a man suspended in them like a fly willingly caught in a web while the wood nymnph feeds. Overall, though the pacing of this film drags it down, in spite of the spectacular opening shot and a tight, interesting ending.

It’s too bad that Ratanaruang seems to have lost his way structurally for the bulk of the film, and at only 94 minutes, there’s not a whole lot of room to tighten it up — though if you cut out the middle, you might have a pretty good short film. On the plus side of the equation, Nymphisn’t quite strong enough nor horror enough to merit a bad American remake starring Nic Cage. Some days at a fest like TIFF, I take my blessings where I can get them.

-by Kim Voynar

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin