HAPPY OLD YEAR (2019) is an impressive Thai film rich in themes on how to live life. It deals with the clutter we acquire and the process needed to clear up our lives. At its centre is a story of a woman attempting to improve her house and from there comes something deeper about bettering herself.
Director Nawapol Thamrongrattanaritt is a real talent. His anthology film DIE TOMORROW (2017) remains an underseen gem of recent cinema. In HAPPY OLD YEAR his stylish design is impeccable. The unusual aspect ratio confines and minimises the screen. The cinematography is absolutely amazing, with many stunning shots. The use of alternating focus is very cool and conveys tension, mood, and uncertainty in a subtle manner. Things here are a haze, not stuck in the absolute of deep focus. The camera is constantly in control of the space, gliding around houses and looking through gaps and doorways. People are cut off by the edge of the screen, walls and doors, and through a series of slow zooms, which culminates in a breathtakingly simple yet effective final shot.
Thamrongrattanaritt’s filmmaking is layered in simplicity and modernity. He uses a score that is minimalist yet well-suited to proceedings. The story breaks away into onscreen text just to keep things digestible and witty. HAPPY OLD YEAR is also connected to our culture, using Marie Kondo, Thanos, and Inception as metaphorical touchstones that the characters discuss. Thamrongrattanaritt is a real 21st century filmmaker and it’s refreshing to see a director who does more than emulate the past.
The lead character in HAPPY OLD YEAR is played by Chutimon Cheungcharoensukying, best known for her breakout performance in Bad Genius, the most internationally successful Thai film ever. She is absolutely exceptional in HAPPY OLD YEAR. The film gives her a lot to work with, from emotional monologues to long cries, but she sells every moment of her character’s struggles. This is a peaceful movie, and even its largest emotions are played quietly. Cheungcharoensukying perfectly underplays her role, keeping everything in check as its quirks play out.
HAPPY OLD YEAR is about how objects hold value. They can be gifts, memories, self-identifiers. Can we really be callous enough to throw them away? The film deals with the appeal of minimalism, about clearing things out to clear out the past. Young people may want change, and older people may not. HAPPY OLD YEAR uses these ideas to find a moral ambiguity. Selfishness is easy but is it right? There’s not really an answer in HAPPY OLD YEAR, but moving on however best you can serves a spiritual purpose and that is what the film taps into.
HAPPY OLD YEAR is a beautifully slight film, made with enough indie-mainstream crossover and witty humour to appeal to almost anyone. It’s a film about happiness and growth. The past becomes dead, and the future is now. HAPPY OLD YEAR is a wonderful little piece from one of Thailand’s best filmmakers and worth seeking out.