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Quiet Reflection


Solids By the Seashore (2023)

“Solids By the Seashore” is unusual for a few reasons. Firstly, it equates the changes people undergo in a new relationship with those a beach undergoes through the ebb and flow of the seasons. Secondly, the people in the new relationship are two young Thai women, one a free-wheeling artist and the other a quiet hijabi. And finally, it’s also a movie about art – the people who make it, the people who sell it and the relationship art has with the places where it’s made. It combines its themes for an unusually satisfying resolution that manages to make all its points despite its restraint.

Shati (Ilada Pitsuwan) lives with her aunt and uncle in Songkhla and is the last of her friends to remain unmarried, though her family is working hard to get that changed. Her friends’ cheerful boredom with their husbands is refreshing, as is the name of the (real) bar where they occasionally hang out: Grandpa Never Drunk Alone. Shati works in an art gallery owned by Aey (Pakorn Rujiravilai) – the walls of which are covered with New York subway signs – which has a small apartment upstairs where resident artists can stay. The newest artist is Fon (Rawipa Srisanguan), who had previously been in the town for a project with a former artistic partner/boyfriend, Chat (Apichai Tragoolpadetkrai), and has returned on her own for a new, similarly-themed project to reclaim her sense of herself. Shati has a scooter so part of her job involves guiding Fon around the area, where they explore the views and chat about their lives while Fon takes photographs, and considers.

The local beaches are prone to heavy erosion thanks to monsoons, so there has been considerable seawall investment, which has only made things worse. (The relationship between the people and the beaches is similar to that in the Bangladeshi movie “The Salt in Our Waters,” though since that movie was filmed in 2019 the entire area where it was filmed has been destroyed.) Cinematographer Benjamaporn Rattanaraungdetch uses drone footage to enable us to reflect upon the physical world as Shati remembers conversations with her late grandmother (Sure Kewee) that took place on these beaches which have changed significantly even in her own lifetime. But even as Shati starts to see Faisal (Khalid Midam), an amiable young imam her family has picked out for her, she finds herself drawn to Fon in a way she can’t articulate. Well, she could, except she is an observant Muslim and someone who was generally content with her life as it was. But Fon the artist has made a career out of enabling people to look at things in new ways.

Ms. Pitsuwan is a talk-show host in Thailand and also currently undertaking graduate studies in London, so she spoke at BFI Flare about how the director Patiparn Boontarig, writer Kalil Pitsuwan and the cast chose to make the gay themes implicit so that it would be more culturally acceptable, both in Thailand and for Muslims. Cultural differences can be surprising, not least since Ms. Srisanguan gets quite nude, which in the United States is more startling these days. But even the feelings which dare not speak their name are explored, there’s always an underlying edge to them, since Fon is an artist above all, repurposing her feelings for public display. Six local artists were commissioned to make the works on display as her exhibit, which manages to combine the movie’s themes into an elegant package and provides a satisfying if sneaky ending.

And it’s this resolution which makes explicit the choice that Shati has in front of her – the traditional and more socially acceptable one with Faisal, or the less stable but more satisfying one with Fon. And this is where the metaphor of the title comes into play, because what on the seashore is actually solid? Even the strongest stones are eventually ground into sand if they aren’t swept away. How does a person stay true to themselves in the monsoon of human feeling? One method is art, and bending the world around you to reflect your feelings (the use of mirrors in Fon’s art is especially clever at this). Another method is honesty and being able to tell the truth about who you are and what you want. And a third is paying attention to the world around you, enabling everything to be its best self. This delightful movie does a wonderful job of depicting the shifting sands of the human heart with kindness and discretion.


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