SPLENDOR SOLIS REVIEW
by Jit Phokaew, originally published in Limitless Cinema, September 2015
SPLENDOR SOLIS (2015, Daniel Fawcett, A+30)
SPLENDOR SOLIS is easily one of the most beautiful films I have seen this year. It is a film made by compiling various kinds of footage shot by the director over 17 years. It is an autobiographical film, and its poetic quality reminds me of such beautiful and powerful films as THE LONG DAY CLOSES (1992, Terence Davies), AS I WAS MOVING AHEAD OCCASIONALLY I SAW BRIEF GLIMPSES OF BEAUTY (2000, Jonas Mekas), KAMIAS: MEMORIES OF FORGETTING (2006, Khavn De La Cruz), FUENG (2010, Teeranit Siangsanoh + Wachara Kanha + Tani Thitiprawat), and GRINDHOUSE FOR UTOPIA (2013, Tani Thitiprawat).
Like AS I WAS MOVING AHEAD OCCASIONALLY I SAW BRIEF GLIMPSES OF BEAUTY, SPLENDOR SOLIS is one of the most difficult films to describe. Both films seem to have no “story” to tell. Each of them shows us the life of its director, but shows them without any voiceover and any specific information which we can hold on to. The viewers who don’t know its director personally are likely to get confused about what they see. We don’t know the relationship between the director and each person who appears in the film. Is this woman his mother, his sister, his friend, or his girlfriend? Who is this little baby? Who is this guy? Is this guy the director? Sometimes we don’t know what really happens before our eyes. Sometimes we see some kinds of strange performances, but we don’t know what the performances were all about, the context in which they happened, for which audience the performances were, what inspired each of the performances, etc. We don’t know any specific information about anything we see, but it is this quality which helps make this “very personal” film “universal” at the same time. Because we don’t exactly know anyone or any specific stories behind any scenes in this film, we are “liberated” in a way. Compared to most narrative films, SPLENDOR SOLIS gives us more freedom to interpret anything we see, more freedom to feel anything from what we see, and also more freedom to connect the scenes we see in any way we like.
One of the most interesting things in SPLENDOR SOLIS is the use of twin screens for the most part of the film. The film starts with a single screen. It shows us a colorful garden, a young man and a room full of paintings. The man seems to be an artist. He plays with a glass ball. And after he has blown a candle, the film changes into twin screens. I’m not sure what this prologue means. But it seems like the first part of the film is the invitation to go inside a mind of an artist, or maybe the invitation to travel together with an artist in a mental journey.
The use of twin screens in this film is very interesting. What shows inside each screen at the same time seems not to correspond to what shows inside the other screen directly. It seems a little bit random sometimes, but somehow I feel they are connected indirectly or poetically, rather than logically. I’m not sure if the director uses any specific scheme to arrange the connection between the two screens or not, but I guess he might have chosen what to show in each screen by following his own instinct or feelings, rather than following any specific or fixed scheme. There are only a few moments in this film in which what shows inside both screens corresponds to each other directly, such as when both screens show someone playing piano, show a man holding a camera, or shows some persons dancing in a strange way. But most of the time what shows inside each screen does not correspond directly to each other, and the viewers are free to connect them any way they like.
I think the use of twin screens helps make this film much more captivating. If the film uses only one screen, the film would be twice as long, and might not be as captivating as this. When I see two screens at the same time in this film, I feel as if my brain or the part of my brain which deals with feelings is used at twice the rate of what is used when I see an ordinary film. Moreover, the use of twin screens also reminds me of what Harun Farocki once said about what is interesting in video installations in galleries. I don’t remember exactly what Farocki said. But he pointed out that for ordinary films shown in theatres, the filmmakers can play only with the editing between each shot—he can choose which shot comes first, which shot comes second, which shot comes after that—and can create some meanings between the editing of shots like this. But for some video installations in galleries which use more than one screen, the videomakers can play both with the editing of each shot and the arrangement of what to appear in each screen at the same time. So when we see an ordinary film which uses a single screen, we may have to deal with meanings and feelings created by the editing of shots. We may think about why this shot comes after that shot. What is the connection between the first shot and the second shot? What do we feel when we see this shot comes after that shot? But when we see films or videos with multiple screens at the same time, we might also have to deal with these questions: what is the connection between what is shown in each screen in each moment? Is the guy in the right screen the same one whom we saw in the left screen a few minutes ago? Is what is shown in the left screen happens in the same place as the right screen? etc.
So the brain is aroused twice much more than when we see an ordinary film. Moreover, there are many scenes in SPLENDOR SOLIS which use superimpositions, such as the scene when we see a guy in a black dress running in a field, and the scene of a beach is superimposed on it. So in many instances, we see three or four things happen at the same time. The left screen shows the scene of a field superimposed on a scene at the beach. The right screen shows the shot of a woman superimposed on a shot of a city. So our brain is aroused much more. It seems like we are encouraged to find the connection between these four images at the same time, and also the connection between these four images and other images which come after that, and also the connection between these four images and the music.
I also want to point out that the soundtrack of this film is great. I like it very much. It is very strange, very beautiful, and very powerful at the same time. Sometimes it is like “the third screen” of this film, because sometimes I’m not sure what the connection is between what we see in the twin screens and what we hear, so the music in this film does not only guide our emotions, but also arouses our brains. There are only several instances in this film in which the sound corresponds directly to what we see on the screen, such as when we see someone hitting a cymbal and we hear the cymbal, or when we see a dog and hear it barks, or when we see the sea and hear some seagulls.
The use of music in this film also reminds me of what my friend once said about how important music is to many experimental films. Because many experimental films don’t tell a coherent story, but show us fragments of many things, powerful music must be used to hold these various fragments together, or else the fragments might be too diverse, too different from one another, or cannot connect to one another satisfyingly. I think the music in SPLENDOR SOLIS functions in this way, too. It can hold the various fragments in this film together. It holds what happens in the left screen and the right screen together, and holds what happens in each minute and the next minute together, because what happens in each minute may not connect directly to what happens in the next minute in this film.
Though I said my brain is aroused very much by the use of twin screens and strange music in this film, I didn’t mean that the brain is used to solve a mystery or to understand any information in this film, because this film is neither a murder mystery nor a narrative film which tells us about something difficult to understand. I mean the part of the brain which deals with feelings. Because we see two, three or four images at the same time, and hear strange music at the same time, we are aroused to feel something stronger or more intensely than what we usually feel. And because our brains cannot understand many things which happen at the same time, this film might require a second viewing for some of us in order to notice something which we don’t notice in the first viewing.
The other thing I like in SPLENDOR SOLIS is its use of vibrant, strong colors, like in SAVAGE WITCHES (2012). I think the use of colors is one of the things which make this film stand apart from other experimental/poetic/autobiographical films. I think the use of home movies in this film reminds me of AS I WAS MOVING AHEAD OCCASIONALLY I SAW BRIEF GLIMPSES OF BEAUTY. The use of strange performances and the focus on friendship reminds me of FUENG. The use of twin screens reminds me of GRINDHOUSE FOR UTOPIA. And these films are experimental/poetic/autobiographical films, too. But none of them uses vibrant colors like SPLENDOR SOLIS. So this colorful quality is one of the things which make this film unique.
Though I said SPLENDOR SOLIS reminds me of some other experimental/poetic/autobiographical films, I didn’t mean to say they are very much alike. I think each of them is very different from one another, and I’m eager to see other films in this genre. I think what makes each of them very different from one another is because each of them is made from the personal life and the inner feelings of each director. And because each director’s life is very different—they grew up in different countries, in different times, in different societies, in different classes, have different families (some are very close to their families, others are not), have different groups of friends, have different activities—their autobiographical films come out very different automatically, especially if they made their films by listening to the inner rhythms inside themselves, and let the films become the free flow of their subconscious like in SPLENDOR SOLIS.