★★★★☆

Set in the titular southern Thai town, the futuristic-sounding date of Krabi, 2562 actually refer to the contemporaneous year in the Buddhist calendar. In filmmakers Ben Rivers and Anocha Suwichakornpong’s first collaboration, Krabi, 2562’s title is the first of many nods to time as something subjective, and where futures, pasts and presents intersect.

In a recent interview with Cineuropa, the British-born Rivers said that collaborating with Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong – a filmmaker more experienced in narrative features –  was a key component in an ambition to make a picture outside his typical wheelhouse. The result is a film where narrative as a conceit is played with constantly, combining a loose central story with a non-linear and multi-faceted vision of Krabi and its collage of shifting inhabitants.

Playful is the key word here: not content to present one story, Krabi, 2562 offers multiple, overlapping miniature narratives that include a tourist (Siraphan Wattanajinda) on the trail of her parents first meeting and an actor (Primrin Puarat) playing a caveman in a crummy advertising campaign. The actor, in the act of relieving his bladder, spots a real neanderthal eyeing him curiously from the trees. We revisit the neanderthal and his companion several times as they apparently live peaceably in their cave, passively observing the outside world.

Are we glimpsing the past, or has it crossed over into the present? Perhaps the cave people are glimpsing our future in idle imagination. Krabi, 2562’s mixing of documentary, magical realism and even a touch of detective fiction reinforce the sense of a film unwilling to be pinned down to conventional narrative norms, tone or even perspective. If it’s possible to conceive ambivalence as positive, then Rivers and Suwichakornpong’s film is wonderfully ambivalent.

Meanwhile, the touring woman – who at different points tells her guides she is a marketing executive and a location scout – visits a shrine important as the site of a mythical wedding party who were transformed into an island by a vengeful spirit. A forest of fertility totems rather comically carpet the cave floor like priapic fungi while we ponder whether how much is true island history and how much is tourist trap. Ghosts are present everywhere here – from the island rocks formed from the souls of mythic couples to the hotel staff interviewed about their haunted corridors.

Animals – both real and inanimate – are a recurring visual motif as Krabi, 2562 moves lazily back and forth from the shore, to the forest, to the city. There’s no sense of disunity in this movement; the gorgeous, earthy compositions of Krabi’s forests are no more invested with spirit than the shimmering concrete structures of its urban sprawl. And it’s in the city where the woman discovers where her parents first met: a beautiful old cinema long out of use. Of course it is – where else would you expect to find spectral images from the past? Soon after, the woman disappears from the film as Krabi, 2562 content to let the mystery hang suspended in the air and slip effortlessly into a new rhythm.

Christopher Machell | @MachellFilm