Berlin Film Festival Patrick Gamble

Berlin 2018: Die Tomorrow review

★★★★☆

If you found out you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do? Cinema has often looked to stories of the dead as a way of making sense of the living, but rarely do we ever choose to confront our own mortality head on. Not Thai director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, whose Die Tomorrow merges various perspectives on death to provoke a conversation about the fleeting nature of life.

Die Tomorrow absorbs information through an assortment of real-life conversations, news reports and reenactments to create a more informed, emotionally resonant basis from which to explore the interactions between movement and stillness, the living and the dead. Opening with a quote about the 24 hour life expectancy of the mayfly, the film quickly cuts to mobile phone footage of a parent explaining death to their distraught child. It’s the type of spontaneous, real-life comedy moment you’d expect to see go viral, but it also touches on how devastating the discovery of our own mortality is. Part hybrid documentary, part essay film, Die Tomorrow renders death as something more obscure and less final than its commonly seen; positing it as a matter for procrastination by opening up new possibilities and intellectual positions on the topic of our temporality.

There are roughly 7200 death every hour – that’s two a second, and Thamrongrattanarit uses this statistic to frame six real life deaths in Bangkok – with a counter at the top left of the frame keeping track of all the deaths that occur during the Die Tomorrow’s runtime. There’s a college girl who was hit by a bus whilst buying beer for her friends, a young man who jumps from his balcony because he feels alienated and a businessman who died in his sleep during the stock market, only for his body to go unnoticed for 5 hours. None of these six subjects have any clue of their impending fate, with the film choosing instead to explore their quotidian activities the moments before and after their time on this earth has runs its course.

Many of these constructed realities are shot in close up, with Thamrongrattanarit choosing to work within a tight frame ratio to elude to how we eventual all greet death alone. If that sounds depressing it shouldn’t, as the film’s gallows humour keeps the tone light throughout, framing each of these vignettes with real life interviews; be it a young child who read about death on Reddit, to a 104 year old man who believes his long life is either down to his genes, or a mistake by someone upstairs.

Thamrongrattanarit’s stimulating rhythm and unhurried pacing slowly casts a spell over the viewer who, in turn, are rewarded with a series of tender moments that highlight the simple pleasures that make life worth living. By the end of Die Tomorrow the counter at the top of the screen tells us that 8,442 will have passed away during the film, but these tender reflections on the ephemeral nature of life make that figure seem insignificant. A beautiful tapestry about time, and how time works, Thamrongrattanarit strips away the fear that surrounds death by instilling the belief that we should live each day as if we were going to die tomorrow.

The Berlin Film Festival runs from 15-25 February. Follow our coverage here.

Patrick Gamble | @PatrickJGamble