Motel Mist: aliens in totalitarian Thailand

Eight young filmmakers will be competing for the Hivos Tiger Award at International Film Festival Rotterdam. And there is a lot at stake: besides the honour, there is a prize to the amount of €40,000. This year, there is also a special Jury Prize of €10,000 for a remarkable artistic achievement. The nominees are just as international as IFFR itself; they originate from Iran, Thailand, Australia, Belgium, Paraguay, Colombia, Brazil, and the USA. We get acquainted using chat, e-mail, and video call. On Saturday 29 January: Prabda Yoon with Motel Mist.

By Sophie van Leeuwen and Pieterbas van Wiechen

Popular Thai writer Prabda Yoon (1973) has branched out as a filmmaker. His first film provides a glimpse of Thailand today. Motel Mist is erotic and alienating, replete with wandering souls.

Sex and lonely people... How erotic does it get?

"It is not my intention to arouse people, I want the viewer to feel uncomfortable. And show them that there are people who are involved in this. I think eroticism is interesting. It shows our human side. Once you document it, people look away. The film throws an interesting light on human behaviour. I show sexual confusion and sexual abuse. It is not really a film about loneliness, more about the sense of not belonging. The sense of oppression, discomfort, of strict control and the desire to escape. The alien is a metaphor. You're hoping someone will come and kidnap you."

You're hoping someone will come and kidnap you

Is the film about Thailand as well?

"Motel Mist is my criticism of the current situation in my country. A military junta seized power in 2014. People in Thailand are now living under a totalitarian regime. Freedom of expression and human rights do not have priority. This is very frustrating for liberal people. It is very difficult for us to live a normal life. And there are no signs of progress, our future looks quite bleak."

Are you putting yourself in danger with this film?

"If I were to openly attack the Thai government, I would be in trouble. I would probably be brought to a secret location and questioned. This happens frequently to activists, academics, and other critical voices. (laughing) But if I talk about aliens and alienation, they probably don't understand what I'm talking about. My movie will be released as usual in Thailand. I feel fairly safe."

How about other Thai artists?

"After the coup and the political unrest of recent years, many Thai artists got involved in politics, much more so than in the past. We are engaged on a daily basis. Almost all independent filmmakers are political."

How do you feel about IFFR?

"I am very happy. Many friends of mine - other filmmakers - have been here already. They told me how great the festival is. I am really looking forward to getting to know other filmmakers, the audience, and of course the city of Rotterdam. And now, my first feature film has been nominated for a Tiger Award. That was a complete surprise. I'm already looking forward to shooting my second movie. But I won't tell you what that is about."

Motel Mist

Erotic fantasies can come to life in the rooms of Motel Mistress. But whether these will be pleasurable for those involved is another matter. A strange disappearance, revenge and aliens all turn up one typical afternoon in this love nest. A fantastic impression of our existential isolation. 

One of the staff in an alien-looking love motel in Bangkok is wearing a 'Mars Attacks' T-shirt. Whether there really are actual aliens hanging around or not, the creepiest character for the time being is the cunning/fatherly smiling Sopol - a sex maniac with a preference for horrible games. He tries these out on teenager Laila in Room 7, who is afraid her brave girlfriend Vicky will come too late. Debut director Prabda Yoon, who wrote the screenplay for the equally imaginative Last Life in the Universe, captures it all in clear, smartly composed images, perhaps betraying his experience as a graphic designer.
The feeling of isolation, heightened by mirrors and walls with peepholes, is even more intense two rooms further along, where a former television celebrity things he is in contact with aliens and has prepared for their arrival by painting the room black. Unexpected twists and turns and bizarre events ensue, unanticipated by either Sopol or the audience, bringing the paths of all the main characters together. How strange the way to a comforting gesture can be.
Whether the aliens are real or not is not so important to Yoon. He believes we are all alone in our own universes. The absurdity of existence and the sense that contact and confidence are rare underpin Motel Mist, which also takes a passing swipe at Thailand's social climate.

More info and tickets

Hivos & IFFR

Hivos supports a free and open cinema climate, not only as head sponsor of IFFR and partner of the Hubert Bals Fund, but also by working with filmmakers in countries like Syria, Cuba and Zimbabwe. In places where freedom of expression is hard won, these people produce movies and documentaries that tell a genuine story and need a platform. Hivos supports these filmmakers and gives them a voice. For wherever there is room for dissent and new voices, there is space for people with all their differences.