Credit: Electric Eel Films, Diversion
by Ryan Swen Film

Come Here | Anocha Suwichakornpong

March 4, 2021

Over the past twelve years, Anocha Suwichakornpong has developed one of the more elusive and protean bodies of work on the festival circuit. Seven years after her auspicious debut, Mundane History (2009), a destabilizing, achronological story of the burgeoning friendship between a sullen upper-class young man and the male nurse taking care of him, she made one of the most notable breakout features of the decade. 2016’s By the Time It Gets Dark begins as an examination of Thailand’s history of student resistance to dictatorship before pinwheeling off to form a dense network of embodied memories, parallel lives, and metafictions. Her next feature, Krabi, 2562, a 2019 collaboration with Ben Rivers, pared back some of these impulses in favor of a documentary hybrid dedicated to the exploration of the eponymous island.

With her new feature Come Here, Anocha has opted for what appears to be an even slighter approach, but one that in fact conceals a whole host of complexities. Running a slender 68 minutes (including five minutes of credits), the film principally follows a group of four theater actors from Bangkok, who embark on a getaway to a remote forest. Their stay is almost deliberately desultory and brief, mostly spent on what looks like a floating cabin docked on a river, as they drink, sunbathe, and engage in conversations that very slowly dole out previously withheld background information. Towards the end of the film, the actors restage this journey in a black-box setup, constructing a set of the cabin and recreating their conversations and activities almost word for word. Intertwined with this is a narrative as deliberately abstruse as the main plot is straightforward, focusing on a young researcher who appears to be undergoing a similar journey as the actors. However, this trip is much more eventful and marked with a mysterious tropical malady, complete with a startling morphing effect.

Such a summary doesn’t quite convey the strangeness of Come Here, and of Anocha’s approach to the material. She largely avoids intercutting these storylines, letting them play out in discrete chunks, so threads and even characters float in and out of their own narratives; at one point, one of the actors even pops up in the same scene as the young researcher without explanation. Shooting in 1.33:1 and muted black-and-white, Anocha generally favors long shots, but her technique varies; she goes so far as to include a few split screens along the middle of the y-axis of the frame, which let vast swaths of trees bleed into a city landscape, or to enable a vision of one of the actors in the forest to hover over an image of her sleeping in bed. That visualization of realities blending into each other helps illuminate the concealed thrust of Come Here, as does a protracted centerpiece scene where the actors imitate animals to the point of exhaustion. Both narratives, by clashing fluid identities — both performed and genuine — with quotidian realities, propose the forest as a realm of possibility and mystery, where performance can allow a person to move into a more primitive form of existence, which the actors try to recapture in some form back in the city.

Of course, this is not a novel framework, but what distinguishes Anocha’s approach is the deliberate de-emphasis of her film’s central concern, almost to the point of imperceptibility. This can result in a somewhat hazy, unsatisfying viewing experience; the characters in particular feel loosely defined. But in the way that it resists being pinned down and seems to transform in the mind, Come Here certainly feels of a piece with Anocha’s previous work. The surface pleasures are certainly there, but, whether in the wild disjunctions of narrative or the unexpected aesthetic ruptures, there is always the suggestion of something lurking just beneath the surface.

Originally published as part of Berlin Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 4.
Published as part of Art of the Real 2022 — Dispatch 1.