Lee Chatametikool’s debut feature, Concrete Clouds is something of a cautionary tale couched in a portrait of two brothers cast adrift during Thailand’s economic crisis in 1997. Made in 2013, with the society on the brink of another collapse, it is easy to read the allegorical warning in this elliptical narrative that appears to predict history tragically repeating itself ad infintum. Lee has enjoyed a hugely successful career as an editor over the past thirteen years and this first directorial effort bears various hallmarks of those filmmakers that his collaborated with previously. In particular it outwardly resembles Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Mundane History (2009) while trailing a foot in more populist waters.
This is perhaps the most obvious contradiction in a film riddled with them; it is consistently intriguing but undeniably roughly hewn. While characters haunt white-washed town houses that will become the abandoned skeletons of Aditya Assarat’s Hi-So (2010), they also wallow in fantasies that are inspired by vividly saturated pop videos. For every tender moment of affection, there is cold impassion and the two intertwining love stories are both heavily undercut – one by its past, the other by its inevitable future. The relationship between Mutt (Ananda Everingham) and Sai (Janesuda Parnto) recalls The Postal Service’s Nothing Better: “You’re getting carried away feeling sorry for yourself / With these revisions and gaps in history.” Mutt’s recollection of their time together, over a decade previous, is through a similarly rosy lens, ignoring the obvious, but not-remarked-upon dissolution.
Nothing Better‘s opening notes aptly sound a lot like the kinds of pop songs littered throughout Concrete Clouds. Their cheesy accompanying videos are also utilised, harking perhaps to the process of discarding youthful innocence and exuberance, but the thesis never coalesces in any meaningful way. Instead, they are useful tools to express the aforementioned daydreams of Nic (Prawith Hansten) whose unrequited feelings for Poupee (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk) seem destined to remain confined to three minute ditties. Languishing painfully as a BFF – as opposed to a BF – his trajectory is headed towards that of his brother who took flight to New York and arguably contributed to the ensuing financial nightmare by trading currency.
Whether Poupee follows in the footsteps of her older sister or Sai, it is onto a vacuous commercial ladder that devours the soul whether you are on the rung at the gleaming top, or grubby bottom. Each of these stories is compelling in their own right but together they struggle to mesh among the music videos and archival footage of half-built skyscrapers – Jarin Pengpanich’s cinematography excels at creating a sense of emotional isolation, however. The collapse is foreshadowed by the suicide of Mutt and Nic’s father, bringing them together in this imploding Bagkok, but it’s like they occupy different timelines. This is perhaps the entire point, but it impinges on the sense of narrative cohesion. So while Concrete Clouds is an interesting attempt to explore the economic collapse and bring attention to past mistakes – both personal and social – it is a desultory experience that is difficult to pin down.
Concrete Clouds is released in UK cinemas on 26 June by Day For Night
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson