Movie Review: The Overture

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
"The Overture"

"The Overture," helmed by Itthi-sunthorn Wichailakis from Thailand, is inspired by the life of Luang Pradit Pairoh, the legendary ranard virtuoso born in the late 1800's. The ranard is a wood or bamboo-keyed traditional Thai percussion instrument, resembling a xylophone with 21 to 22 keys strung together. The story, with the lead character named Sorn, is set during World War II in Siam during the Cultural Revolution when the king banned any form of traditional culture in favor of Western culture. The police who enforced the king's wishes were often rigid and oppressive, destroying instruments and making trumped up charges to imprison citizens.

Four year-old Sorn's musical life starts auspiciously when the butterfly he is following takes him into his father's music room and lights on the ranard. Young Sorn sees the instrument for the first time, picks up the mallets and creates his first melodious piece.

Some of the scenes in the film, like the butterfly imagery, tended towards treacley-sweet -- reminiscent of a Thai dessert -- a bit cloying with its syrup and coconut, but possessing enough substance and complexity that you want to keep eating, and feel satisfied when you're finished.

As a child Sorn is stirred up by all the sounds he hears in nature near his rural home, and eventually replicates them in his innovative music. "The Overture" shifts back and forth to different times in Sorn's life chronicling his musical victories, and struggles both internally and from the political climate in Siam.

As a young man Sorn, played by a devastatingly handsome Anuchit Saphanphong, defeats the national ranard champion in a somewhat hackneyed contest scene, and becomes the most celebrated ranard musician in Siam. Anuchit's understated style and quiet confidence makes him appealing and believable as the young man. Except for a short period of transgressions, for which he pays dearly, Sorn is reverent toward his teachers, his competitors, and especially the music as his father taught him from early on. But it is old Sorn who pierced my heart. Played by Adul Dulyarat, his elderly Sorn is nuanced and elegantly realized. Playing a dying weak man he expresses steadfastness and dignity through posture and the timbre of his voice, bristling against the soldiers and the irrational laws that want to suppress of all things, traditional music and culture.

The star of the film is the music itself, and the idea that the arts and creativity are so necessary to life, lifting us and making us human.

In San Francisco this is Joan Widdifield for Movie Magazine.
Air date 10/5/05
More Information:
The Overture
Thailand - Cast: Anuchit Saphanphong, Adul Dulyarat, Arratee Tanmahapran, Narongit Tosa-nga