THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS (2016) – REVIEW BY JIT PHOKAEW
Originally published by Limitless Cinema.
1. In a way, this film reminds me of THE GARDEN (1990, Derek Jarman), because both of them are surrealist films inspired by biblical myths. And both of them have the same effects on me — first they impressed me like abstract paintings, later they impressed me like Impressionist paintings.
This is because I am not familiar with biblical myths at all. I was raised in a Buddhist culture, and have very little knowledge about the Bible or Christianity. So when I watched THE GARDEN for the first time, I didn’t understand anything at all, except the fact that the film links gays with some stories in the Bible. It seemed as if I understood only 20% of THE GARDEN, but I still liked the film very much. It’s like looking at an abstract painting, and think it is very beautiful, though I can’t “understand” the painting at all. But when I watched THE GARDEN again with an American friend, I found that he could interpret nearly every scene in the film, because he is familiar with biblical myths and western culture. So what used to be abstract to me in THE GARDEN suddenly was not abstract any more. THE GARDEN turned from an abstract painting into an Impressionist painting in front of my eyes (or my mind).
That’s roughly the same effect that THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS had on me. When I watched THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS for the first time, I liked it very much, though I didn’t understand many parts in the film. I just like the haunting atmosphere in the film. The reason why I couldn’t understand many parts in the film is because I was not familiar with the story of Cain and Abel. So I had to read about it in Wikipedia. After reading it, I can understand the inspirations behind many scenes in the film, such as the murder scene or the wandering scene. And I think it is very touching that the film seems to link three characters in the end — Cain, Eve, and the girl. All of them are banished, expelled or in exile, but the film seems to take their sides or sympathize with these banished characters. The film is like a tribute to those in exile.
So I like THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS very much, both before and after knowing the story of Cain and Abel. Before I knew this biblical story, I liked THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS the same way that I like some abstract paintings or surrealist paintings — I don’t understand what I saw at all. I just think it is very powerful in a mysterious way. But after reading the story of Cain and Abel, many scenes in the film suddenly make sense. I still like the film very much, but instead of liking only its atmosphere, its beauty, and its visual power, I also like its story and the way it treats the banished characters.
2. The film is extremely beautiful for me. Its visual is very strong. I don’t know how to describe its beauty. I’m not good at describing this kind of thing, whether in Thai or English. But if I have to compare it with other films, I think its visual beauty can be compared to THE ROSE KING (1986, Werner Schroeter).
3. I like the haunting atmosphere in the film very much. I think it is because I like both arthouse films and horror films, so I’m glad when I find a film which has the elements of both genres in it, such as this film.
4. Many scenes in the film are very memorable, including both the scenes which are understandable and the scenes which are enigmatic. Examples of understandable scenes are the scenes of Adam and Eve. I think the story of Adam and Eve is very familiar to many viewers, so if any directors want to tell this well-known story in their films, they have to find a very interesting way to present this story, or else this story in the film will become very boring. Why do you tell us what we have already known? The viewers might ask.
But the story of Adam and Eve in this film is not boring at all. I think the story is told in a very creative way. The scenes of Adam and Eve are very well-designed. Some of the scenes are in long take, and require a lot of efforts from the cinematographer and the actors. What impresses me a lot in this case is not the story, but how creatively the well-known story is told.
Examples of the enigmatic scenes are the scenes of the black ghost in the kitchen, the scenes of another black ghost haunting the girl, and the scenes which show some androgynous characters, such as the guy with white beard who wears a skirt, or a person with female breasts and a penis. I don’t know the meanings of these scenes or what these characters stand for. I just think they are very memorable, powerful, and thought-provoking.
5. It is extremely difficult to decide which scene I like the most in this film, because this film is full of many memorable and unique scenes. But one of the scenes which I like very much is the scene in which some family members try to eat something with a knife and a fork, instead of using a spoon, and they become very awkward trying to eat it. I don’t know what this scene stands for. But it unintentionally makes me think about how unreasonably people sometimes behave with their own family members.
6. Compared to SAVAGE WITCHES (2012, Daniel Fawcett, Clara Pais), THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS is much more powerful or accomplished. I mean the visuals in THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS captivate me much more than the ones in SAVAGE WITCHES. It seems like SAVAGE WITCHES is made by students experimenting something in a laboratory in a school of “film sorcery”, while THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS is a thesis film which shows that its makers are in full control of “film magic” and are now ready to graduate from the school of film sorcery. The makers of THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS can now join the rank of other “film sorcerers”—such as Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Jane Arden, Derek Jarman, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Werner Schroeter, Nina Menkes, David Lynch. Their films are very different, but some of their films are pure magic.