Sunday, September 13, 2009

Meat Grinder (2009)

Thailand in the 70s. The noodle vendor Buss (Mai Charoenpura) had a very disturbing childhood consisting of general abuse, paternal rape and being sold into marriage when Dad got her pregnant. The only point of light growing up was her Mum, but neither her incessant talk of vengeance nor mother's tendency to poison and chop up people (especially men) who displease her nor Mum's own abusiveness are what I typically associate with a positive influence.

Grown-up, Buss just gets by living with a little girl she herself abuses. Her gambler-rapist asshole of a husband seems to have absconded, but has left her his debts with a bunch of gangsters.

Out and about to sell her noodles, Buss is being sucked into the aftermath of a pro-democratic demonstration that is brutally struck down by the police. Attapon (Rattanaballang Tohsawat), one of the demonstrators saves her from close contact with the forces of "law" and "order", starting off something that will turn into a love affair.

Alas, Buss carries a dark secret around: she tends to solve problems like her mother did, and so her husband, his lover and soon the gangsters have all been made the base of some tasty noodle recipes.

That's the sort of thing that can really trouble a relationship, as can Attapon's way of giving Buss a reason for jealousy.

Ah, it's the old tale of a mentally disturbed person, chopping up her problems and making delicious meals out of them. However, you have probably seldom seen this story told as Meat Grinder does.

Someone seems to have warned the film's director Tiwa Moeithaisong against the evils of linear storytelling, and so the excessively simple story is told by him in an excessively complicated way. There's an abundance of flashbacks, sequences whose reality stands in doubt, missing transitions, transitional sequences that are only shown after the viewer has already puzzled out what must have happened and a scene that would have made the final twist in many a horror film but is here just a throwaway point right in the middle of the film.

Used without care, this could make for just a sloppy film, but Moeithaisong is very obviously far from careless. To my eyes, he seems to use this delinearization technique to put the film's viewer in the same state of mind Buss is in: caught in a seemingly endless repetition of abuse and violence (privately and in the public sphere) that makes it difficult to understand what is happening to her or when or why. After a certain point is reached, the film seems to say, it doesn't even matter anymore if you are the abused or the abuser, the victim or the killer.

Stylistically, Meat Grinder is a successor to the weirdness of Eurohorror and the special brand of insanity found in the independent and grindhouse cinema of the 70s, full of classically grimy violence. Moeithaisong doesn't try to imitate the older films, though, he instead uses modern filmmaking possibilities (for example my hated colour filtering, just this time used with thought) in the same spirit of freedom and nastiness and with the same interest in the social the older films had.

Mai Charoenpura does a fine acting job as Buss and is as believable when she's chopping people up as she is in the softer and more subtle moments of the film that make her Buss more than a monster, and the film is all the better thanks to her efforts.

I have read that a part of the film's narrative disjointedness could have been caused by the dubious hands of Thailand's censorship powers (who are also responsible for a neat warning text on my print whenever a cigarette appears on screen), chopping as merrily away at the film as the film's heroine would at them. If that is true, I have to congratulate them, for the film would be quite a bit less interesting with a more linear, clearer narrative, while what of violence is still on display isn't exactly nauseating to me, but more than enough to be pleasantly unpleasant.


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