Thursday, November 22, 2007

Citizen Dog (Sasanatieng, 2004)

I appreciate a film that lets you know from the very beginning that you are going to be in good hands. The bold, saturated colors of Citizen Dog are immediately arresting as we begin in a comic dream sequence where the protagonist, Pod, meets his grandmother in front of a vivid, pleasantly artificial landscape. After she offers a cryptic prophecy, an off-screen narrator introduces us to Pod’s quirks and personality traits. As we are introduced to Pod’s highly stylized environment, see him work a tedious job at a sardine factory and learn about his habit of plugging in the fan when he means to plug in the iron, it becomes increasingly harder to believe that Thai director, Wisit Sasanatieng, has not at some point in his life watched Amelie. To be sure, the film’s first 15-20 minutes are an absolute delight, highlighted by a giddy and joyful opening credits sequence.

Pod is a country boy who, we are told, has no dream. After accepting a new job in the big city, he soon finds himself attracted to Jin, an obsessive-compulsive maid who may actually find joy and fulfillment in a job devoted to cleanliness. Jin is, however, difficult to get to know, as she constantly has her head in a book. One book, to be precise – a book with a plain white cover and written in a language that she does not understand. Jin, we will find, has a habit of making huge assumptions about the world around her, believing certain people or things are of great importance and impulsively acting according to those fantasies.

Pod, on the other hand, seems utterly intimidated and paralyzed by the hustle and bustle of the world around him. All around him, extraordinary things happen. Yet, he seems too timid to take an active role. After he meets Jin, she and her blue uniform are all that he can see. Sometimes, literally. Despite her frequent irrationality, there is something about her intensity and passion that he finds alluring. In the film’s central metaphor, Pod resists growing a tail, as his grandmother has predicted he would. Sasanatieng’s purpose is somewhat elusive; however, it seems that what Pod fears about becoming a ‘citizen dog’ is that he feels it means conformity and obedience. Pod resists going along with the crowd. Yet, his resistance is passive and unengaged. He must ultimately make a choice: either continue to bump up against the mainstream or find a way to exist within it.

Citizen Dog is filled with enough surprises, humor and visual delights to make it well worth watching. I’ve purposefully avoided mentioning some of the film’s most magical moments and sight gags. However, I did find that my interest and involvement in the journey did begin to wane about halfway through. It is a joy to be introduced to the film’s conventions, idiosyncrasies and central characters. About the time the guy who licks everybody and everything makes his appearance though, I was ready for the film to get a little bit more sincere and forthcoming with what it ultimately hoped to accomplish. Jin’s journey actually turned out to be more moving and meaningful to me than Pod’s. Many of Sasanatieng’s metaphors failed to leave a lasting impression on me, remaining charming quirks, rather than resonant ideas.

Clearly, Sasanatieng is not short on ideas. Yet, in this particular instance, those ideas get a running start, but never truly take flight. Still, all told, there is much about Citizen Dog to recommend and it leaves me with the feeling that Sasanatieng is a director to watch in the future.



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