|Mindfulness and Murder|
The Buddhist Film Festival is a rather unusual in the sense that it actually travels throughout the world, as opposed to taking place in the same city every year. Its last London visit was back in 2009 and it has come back this year, at the lovely Apollo West End, which has become the home of many film festivals these days.
And for fan of Asian and alternative cinema, it is a real treat, with a good selection of documentaries and feature films, with many different genres but with the same Buddhist touch. I have selected a handful of films which are of particular interest.
There is the intriguing Abraxas, by Naoki Kato, a Japanese film about a former punk rock star now Buddhist priest, who tries to to find nirvana by giving a last performance. Also screening, The Buddha, a part live action part animation film exploring the life of, well, Buddha! Directed by David Grubin and narrated by Richard Gere, I can guarantee you, without having seen it, that it will be infinitely better than the atrocious and mercifully forgotten Little Buddha by Bernardo Bertolucci, starring Keanu Reeves as Buddha (yes you have read this right). Also trying to win the art of cinema some karma back and washing away the memories of those poor souls who saw The Lady by Luc Besson, Aung San Suu Kiy - Lady of no fear, a documentary by Anne Gyrithe Bonnes about Burma's democratic champion.
And then last but not least, from Thailand comes Mindfulness and Murder, a title that caught my eye straight way and that I was lucky to be able to watch prior to the festival. Asian cinema is where to look if you are into genre films, be it horror, gangster films etc... Even westerns if you remember the Thai western Tears of the black tiger (2000), a brilliantly demented film whose kitsch set design looked like Pierre & Giles postcards.
Yet there is a particular genre which I had yet to see tackled, it is the murder mystery. So I was very intrigued to see this Thai whodunnit featuring in the festival line up, and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
In Mindfulness and Murder, the peaceful life of a monastery in Bangkok is thrown into turmoil when a temple boy is found brutally murdered within the its grounds. When the police makes it obvious that this is low priority for them, Father Ananda, a monk and former detective, decides to tackle the case. He quickly realises that all was not as it seemed in the monastery and he unearthes a web of deceits, drug abuse and more ungodly wrongdoings.
What might have sounded like a novelty turned out to be a very assured effort from director Tom Weller, who was born from a Thai father and an Irish mum, which might explains his interest for a more typical Western genre. It looks like he was given a more than decent budget, which elevates this film above the TV film that has too often become the natural home for murder mysteries, with a particularly impressive cinematography. The film takes its time, offering a wonderfully evocative vision of life in a Buddhist monastery, without glancing over the its grittier side. Indeed, we are far from the usual Western stereotype about this sort of place, and we appreciate here its social impact on Thai society, often serving as a refuge for the lost and less fortunate.
While the film mostly takes place within the ground of the monastery, the city of Bangkok itself is seen in a few gorgeous shots, far from the usual cheap exoticism, and that made me want to jump on the first plane to this mad, mad city again. And to top it up, there is an exquisite score by Olivier Liboutry, that adds to the dreamy atmosphere.
But he languid pacing and gorgeous photo do not mean that the story takes the backseat, far from it, nd the film is rather gripping. The film is actually the adaptation of a book, which is part of a series of murder mysteries written by Nick Wilgus and available in the UK, all of them featuring Father Ananada, an Hercule Poirot of sort.
What I particularly liked about it is how the story found the right balance between keeping us guessing with a few neat twists, throwing a few false red herrings our way, but without feeling the need to overcomplicate things. While the resolution itself is rather satisfying, the films does end a little too abruptly, but this is a minor complaint. There are more than a few nods to the grandmother of murder mysteries Agatha Christie and it can only be intentional. And indeed Father Ananda, played with great restraint and subtlety by Vithaya Pansingram (who also co-wrote the script), would make a fine companion to the famous Belgian sleuth, and I have just read that another book of the serie, Killer Karma, is being adapted as a film.
Mindfulness and Murder is shown on Thursday the 12th at the Apollo Cinema in Piccadilly and comes highly recommend for fans of Asian cinema and murder mysteries.