Review: Lemongrass Girl (2021)

IFFR Ammodo Tiger Short Competition

courtesy of IFFR

According to the old Thai folklore belief, rain can be chased away or at least postponed by a simple ritual. All you need is a virginal girl (or a man wearing a skirt in a more modern variation) to plant the lemongrass upside down. Although there is no scientific base for that particular belief, it is still very much followed and honoured in Thailand. Pom Bunservicha’s new fictional short Lemongrass Girl, world-premiering at Rotterdam’s Ammodo Tiger Short Competition, is constructed around it in order to examine the ritual and its repercussions for the position of women and girls in the contemporary Thai society.

Lemongrass Girl is set around the film shooting in the woods at the foothill of a mountain. In order to proceed according to the plan, the crew cannot afford re-scheduling due to weather conditions. So, whenever clouds appear in the sky, one of the girls in the crew has to go and plant the lemongrass. The youngest of them all, Jeanne (Tanwarat Sombatwaltana) is the most logical choice and the production manager Piano (Primrin Puarat) is tasked to ask her to do it. Once Jeanne rejects to succumb to it and Piano cannot find a suitable substitute, she decides to plant it herself. First time it is a success, but the second time the rain could not be stopped. Is Piano “unclean” or does the rain not care much for the folklore rituals because it is simply caused by a string of natural processes?

Tradition and modernity clash violently over Piano. On one hand, Thailand is not a sexually repressed environment, so virginity is not cherished as it is in some other societies. At girl’s certain age, virginity might serve as a joke material for friends, male and female. On the other hand, if the ritual isn’t performed the way it should be, the virgin is the one to blame.

Working with the smart, low-key script written by Anocha Suwichakornpong, Pom Bunsermvicha shows the absurdity of the lemongrass girl ritual in an unpretentious, almost casual manner. It seems that she pays more attention to the details of the filming process, the colours and the sounds of the nature than to the notion of getting the point across. Hand-held camerawork is calm enough not to stir any confusion or irritation, the editing is suitably rhythmical for the measured pace and the acting is relaxed and natural. The end result is a very good short film that treats its topic in a mature fashion.

Runtime: 17’ 34’’
Country: Thailand
Language: Thai
Directed by: Pom Bunsermvicha
Written by: Anocha Suwichakornpong
Cast: Primrin Puarat, Tanwarat Sombatwaltana, Buay Booranateerakit, Maenum Chagasik
Cinematography by: Parinee Buthrasri, Pom Bunsermvicha
Editing by: Aacharee Ungsriwong
Sound design by: Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr
Sound recording by: Ong-art Wiseschotikul
Assistant directors: Supamart Boonnil, Nonthachan Prakobsup
Produced by: Anocha Suwichakornpong, Pom Bunsermvicha, Painee Buthrasri
Production companies: Vertical Films, Electric Eel Films, Whitelight
Sales: Square Eyes