It takes place some time after the 2004 Tsunami in a now nearly deserted tourist town. An outsider (an engineer) comes to town and becomes involved with local life. The unfinished mourning process and grieving permeate the film’s atmosphere, diegetic pace is slow and lyrical. The town’s beachfront is being redeveloped, but the residents’ inner life seems stunted. Seemingly unable to contain mourning and guilt, the film steadily moves toward a notion of sacrifice and violence (see René Girard). The plot’s outcome is depicted with much moral restraint and emotional distance and the lack of closure left uncommented.
This delicate, delightful and nearly note-perfect debut feature from young Thai director Aditya Assarad offers more evidence of the tremendous film renaissance underway in East Asia. Set in a southern coastal town struggling to recover from the devastation of the 2004 tsunami (although the event itself is barely discussed), “Wonderful Town” follows the tentative and then smoldering passion that develops between a visiting Bangkok architect (Supphasit Kansen) and a local woman (Anchalee Saisoontorn) who runs the modest hotel where he’s staying. Assarad is both a patient and a surprising director, alive to the most intimate details of everyday life — folding laundry, changing sheets, drinking coffee — and also to the dreams people hold closest to their hearts, the ones they can barely admit to themselves, let alone their lovers.
While the plot in “Wonderful Town” is fairly minimal, it’s got plenty of suspense. Will the hard-working hotel proprietor let down her hair? Will the architect disappear to the big city? Will the ghosts in the haunted, tsunami-destroyed hotels be appeased, and can a town that lost 8,000 people in a single day be healed? Assarad doesn’t address all these questions directly, let alone answer them, but this irresistible picture, engaging from its first shot to its last, kind of sidles up and gracefully embraces them.
Subtitles:English & Dutch sub/idx