The 50th Edition of International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) is by far the best thing that happened to 2021. First part came to a close but we will meet again in June (2-6 June 2021). As we have mentioned in our previous reviews, the IFFR team did (and keep doing) everything in their capacity to help us the press members with upmost energy. We owe them many thanks for all their help, and this interview is another result of this cooperation between Dial M for Movie and the IFFR officials. We thank Mr. Taiki Sakpisit for accepting to do this interview with us and of course Ms. Gloria Zerbinati for making it possible. We have interviewed Mr. Sakpisit before the results of the IFFR were announced, we congratulate him for this much deserved FIPRESCI award on his latest opus, The Edge of Daybreak.
Mr. Taiki Sakpisit, thank you so much for accepting this interview, can we please begin by talking about the cast, how was the casting process?
Of course, when I finished the script, I knew right away that the casting’s going to be very challenging. Especially the main character, the wife, Pailin. As you know, she just came back from the Sanatorium where she has been treated of her mental illness, or more like a nervous breakdown. So the acting has to be very subtle, it shouldn’t reflect the acting of let’s say great actors or actresses. And mostly for Thai independent films, the use of non-professional actors is very common. But I knew that it’s going to be tough because at the same time I needed an experienced, talented actress, and within the age group of mid-thirties, there’s not many actresses who reach that criteria (laughs). There are of course some, but not too many. The actress that we were considering from the start is Manatsanun Phanlerdwongsakul and she’s also a director, a filmmaker herself. When I met her, I explained to her all that but she has also read the script of course, so she accepted the part and we’re very fortunate to have her on this project. She did a really great job.
Yes, she was great, really. And how was the writing process of the script, which contains many metaphors and images? What were the elements and the factors that you got inspired from?
Because of my background as an experimental filmmaker and visual artist, I’m accustomed to developing a theme; the concept comes always first, and then I begin to think about the story. So when I knew that I’m going to make this film, I thought about a lot of themes and I wanted them to be strong, just like for example the concept of “paralysis”, which is a recurring theme in the movie. It can be a physical paralysis where you can’t move your body, just like in the film where the character was almost in a sleep paralysis; or it can be the paralysis of the mind, of the mental state. Or, we can talk about the paralysis of time, which is very important because I wanted to make a film that also addresses the political crisis in Thailand. The notion of “paralysis of time” is so important for me because it has now been almost seven years under this military government who came to power by a coup d’état and in a way, they’re trying to freeze Thailand, they don’t want it to be fully progressive. So this theme is very important for me. When I got this very strong theme, then I began to work on the story, on the plot. And with a theme that strong, I thought I can liberate myself, I can tell the story without even directly pointing to any political issue at all, it can be subtle. So that was one of my main approaches.
And the political atmosphere in your country was the starting point of the writing process or you thought maybe that the political situation can also be a good way to reflect the abstract notions you had in mind?
In my earlier films which are mostly experimental, I always try to reflect what is going on in Thailand. It’s almost like a diary of mine. My reflections, my thoughts are there, it’s almost like my responsibility towards the political situation of Thailand. So that’s what I’m trying to represent, to reflect and to recall. And the story originated from what I thought was so important for the Thai political history which is mainly from 1976 Thammasat Massacre until the 2006 coup d’état, that thirty-year period of political turmoil. And this period is very relevant to the present of Thailand, as well as to its future. So I wanted to reflect on this.
And what can you say about shooting the movie in black and white? It’s the evident choice of course but what was your train of thought on this subject?
Yes, of course from the start, I knew that I want to make a black and white movie. So when I was writing the script, I wrote it for black and white, every scene. I specifically tried to magnify the textures in the script. For instance, I would write “texture of a snake’s skin”, “textures of animals”, “texture of the walls, the rooms in the house”, etc. And I also wanted to capture the light and the shadow. For example, in one scene you can see a shadow speaking, so I gave them a lot of importance, light and shadows are just like additional characters in the film, they can almost be considered as living creatures. This kind of atmosphere, the black and white world I mean, has a kind of power to hypnotize the people in the house. And another idea is the feeling of the eclipse. We do not see it but we feel its existence; while people are looking up, the Sun suddenly disappears. Then this became like an emotional paralysis to the characters in the film.
Yes, and maybe we should talk about the use of the liquids too, around this concept, their colours are either plain white or pitch black. So what did you have in mind when you were inserting these elements into your film?
The movement, the surface and the texture of the liquids, right? We are talking about something that’s going on subconsciously and as you know, going under the water is very relative to going in the subconscious state. So the liquid is like the transitional medium like when the water is going down the drain in a spiral form, you’re going to the dream world, to the subconscious or anything within that realm of dream. And the concept of cosmos is also very important, the idea of a universe.
Yes, the water being one of the main elements of our World, maybe. And were there any technical issues about the near-absence of light in your film? Capturing the image you had in your mind, was it difficult with that level of darkness that resides in your film?
Yes and no. I mean, we already knew from the script that the movie would be very dark, so we were prepared of course. But for example, nearly the first thirty minutes of the movie is all dark as you know, night time (laughs). That can be really disorienting for the audience. Me and the cinematographer Chananun Chotrungroj were talking about this from the start about the visual aspect I had in mind. I didn’t do a storyboard, actually at first I was trying to do it with her, every frame, but it wasn’t fun, it was a bit boring so I stopped (laughs). So, I tried to go back to my roots as an experimental filmmaker, I did a lot of visual research, visual references and I shared with Chananun, saying “this is what I have in mind”, etc. For example one time I said to her; “in this room, I want the lighting to be as if you are inside the womb, can you create that?” (laughs). But she really did it.
What a challenge, right? And the use of music is also very important, in my humble opinion, so can you talk about the music, which was almost like an additional character in the movie?
Me and Yasuhiro Morinaga, the music composer, we have been working together for almost ten or eleven years now. And thanks to this long friendship, we know each other’s artistic views, he knows what I like, and I know what he’s good at, etc. And I think he’s a spiritual person, he won’t admit it but I think he’s very soulful, he can easily touch you with the music he created. And we needed that element, you know, we need to be connected spiritually to the music. I told him what I was thinking about and what I had in mind was the music of Toru Takemitsu, Japanese avant-garde composer, especially the work he did for The Woman in The Dunes, (1964) directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara. Or scores of films like Kwaidan or Onibaba. I also told Yasuhiro that I wanted natural sounds; the sound of the wind, the sound of the woods, the house, the water, the sound of the air, all of them to be musical, to be, almost like a character just like you said in your question. You can even hear the wind and be like, “is it saying something?”, that kind of vibe.
And I noticed a difference between natural and cultural elements in your movie, I mean there are things that belong to the natural world and of course others that belong to the cultural world, meaning the sum of all things created by men. Animals can walk around on the dining table, for example, so that kind of collusion between nature and culture is also significant, what can you say about this aspect of the film?
That’s an interesting observation, I’ve never heard about this before but yes, the contrast between the animals and the house itself is visible in most of the scenes. For example during the scenes with the snake, the cobra. Its journey is interesting because we see it first outside of the house, then on the balcony and finally in the cooking pot. There was also a mushroom-shape cobra, so when I think about these animals regarding our culture, I can say that the cobra is seen as a symbol of power in most cultures, it can also disguise itself as a human, so these were what I was thinking about. Also the mythology surrounding the cobra is interesting, the Egyptians think that cobra represents death as well as rebirth, or it can be the representation of order and control in other cultures. So in the light of all that, regarding the character of the husband who is a military person, I thought that the concept of order must be really important for him. In general, I can say that the film has an underlined subtext of death and rebirth. In a sense, about the husband, we’re not sure if he’s dead or alive, for example, so I like to play around this concept.
Because of the macabre, dark atmosphere of the film, we feel like the characters, if not us, were in limbo. It’s just my interpretation but did you have in mind something close to that concept?
Of course! (laughs) It can be that or obviously it can be purgatory or the dream world. But one thing is certain, it’s all nightmarish, of course. I wanted to capture these deep, dark, almost haunting, disturbing nightmares. Because politically speaking, I think that’s the emotional outcome of the tragedy; the political crisis dragged us to these deep, dark, disturbing memories, disturbing nightmares. I thought that’s also a nice analogy that should be involved in the movie.
And can you please talk about the filmmakers who had a certain influence on your artistic creations?
Well especially for this particular film, when I did the writing, I also did a lot of research on art in general, but not necessarily on cinema. More like the art of photography or other artistic mediums. Because I don’t want to be referencing another movie, I want to create a unique universe that is not similar to any other film. Of course we can’t escape from the relationship between films but I wanted this movie to come directly from this realm of art, at least from my point of view. And to that, we should add of course the historical background as well as my own personal experiences throughout my life.
And last but not least of course, when I think about the name of the movie, “The Edge of Daybreak”, I know that it’s that time of the night when it’s the darkest, but nevertheless, I also think of positive things because it’s not “the darkest hour” but “the edge of daybreak”, so the emphasis is on the imminence of the light. What can you say about this choice of title?
Yes, it’s a good observation. Do you know The Hour of the Wolf, from Ingmar Bergman?
Of course, yes.
So Bergman says that it’s the hour when many people die. But at the same time, it’s the hour when many babies are born. So life and death, it all occurs in the same hour. But you’re right about the title, I wanted it to reflect a certain level of hope for the future generations. And that’s also reflecting on what is going on right now in Thailand. The Student Movement, for example, that’s the future of Thailand. That’s why the daybreak is close, but not too close, unfortunately.
And finally, can you tell us about your future projects, please?
Of course, right now I’ve finished working on my video installation and it’s showing in South Korea, in Gwangju, it’s an art piece presented in the building of ACC (Asia Culture Center). Then I have a solo exhibition in development. And I’m also writing my next film.
Mr. Taiki Sakpisit, thank you so much for The Edge of Daybreak, this dark yet beautiful movie, and also thank you so much for this interview.
Interview: H. Necmi Öztürk
Questions by: Burcu Meltem Tohum & H. Necmi Öztürk