Arnold Is a Model Student (อานนเป็นนักเรียนตัวอย่าง, Sorayos Prapapan, 2022)

“School is our first dictatorship” a collection of students exclaims in Sorayos Prapapan’s absurdist satire Arnold is a Model Student (อานนเป็นนักเรียนตัวอย่าง). Drawing inspiration from the Bad Student movement, the film positions the educational system as a microcosm of the whole as the students find themselves trying of petty authoritarian oppressions and the infinite corruption of the very mechanism they are told allows them to take control over their futures even as it denies them the right to self-expression or individual freedom. 

In his last year of high school, Arnold (Korndanai Marc Dautzenberg) has brought great praise to his institution after winning a gold medal in the maths Olympiad. Arnold is, however, far from a model student. Low-key rebellious he ignores all rules and does as he pleases but is largely allowed to get away with it because of his value to the school as a symbol of their own success especially as they are currently in the running for an award from the Ministry of Education. Then again this lack of censure seems to tug at Arnold’s sense of conscience wondering what the point of the rules is if they simply don’t apply to him in the same way they apply to others. Mrs. Wanee (Niramon Busapavanich), the school’s most authoritarian disciplinarian, is fond of saying that the rules are necessary for a harmonious society but even the students can see they’re mostly about preserving her own power and status.

In some way perhaps Mrs. Wanee isn’t so different from authoritarian teachers anywhere else in the world if a little more extreme in literally snipping students’ hair if she judges it to be an inappropriate length on her morning inspections. A trio of girls giggle about a man with mental health problems who was hiding in the bathrooms at a shopping mall to snip women’s hair for his wig shop and only then realise that it’s not really all that different to what Mrs Wanee is doing to them in restricting their rights to free expression over the way they look and dress. What seems to her proper discipline seems to them absurd and oppressive and even worse inculcating in them a tolerance for authoritarianism that enables the survival of corrupt dictatorship. 

In essence this is an elite school but as proud as it is of kids like Arnold, who appears to come from a wealthy family, it’s also true that most of its pupils have got in through thinly concealed bribery as parents agree to make “donations” in return for the headmaster finding a place for their less able children. Yet Arnold’s privilege only contributes to his rootlessness and lack of purpose. He doesn’t know what to do with his life in part because he has no real impetus to make a decision and few constraints on his choices. When other students ask him to join the protest movement he refuses stating that he doesn’t see the point, they’ll be finished with school in a few months anyway, thinking solely of himself and making the calculation that the smart thing to do is nothing.

He finds himself similarly conflicted when taken under the wing of dodgy cram school teacher (Winyu Wongsurawat) who runs a scam operation getting talented students to help weaker ones cheat in exams as a fast track path to stable government jobs. Arnold is disadvantaging himself twice over, taking the money but increasing his competition while remaining complicit with corruption, fostering poor government in allowing those without the proper skills to prosper and hold on to their unearned privilege. Resentful that his father, a French citizen, was deported for criticising the government, what Arnold wants is to go abroad but in doing so he’d also be leaving those unable to protect themselves behind simply harnessing his own privilege to remove himself from the system rather than actively resist it. 

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the resistance is largely led by the female students who eventually tell the headmaster that they no longer care if he expels them because there will always be students coming behind them who also will resist and expelling them all would be entirely counterproductive. Sorayos Prapapan’s deadpan approach signals the absurdity of the culture in the schools system in which pupils are given pointless lessons in citizenship which are little more than nationalist propaganda while forced to learn proper “manners” which is also only another way to bow to authority. The director even inserts a scene of a boy with his own name who has to kneel before a teacher and recite his times tables, while the school’s downfall comes about through the new medium of youth resistance TikTok as Sorayos Prapapan includes what appears to be real footage of students receiving corporal punishment in this contemporary era. Ironically the lesson that students learn is that authoritarianism must be challenged at its roots and that only by standing together can they hope to defeat it. Quirky yet clear eyed and heartfelt Sorayos Prapapan’s gentle satire is at least somewhat hopeful in the determination of the young people not to fall for the promise of superficial success in a corrupt system but to fight hard for the freedom they know to be rightfully theirs.


Arnold Is a Model Student screened as part of this year’s Five Flavours Film Festival and is available to stream in Poland until 4th December.

Original trailer (dialogue free)

Tsuyukusa (ツユクサ, Hideyuki Hirayama, 2022)

A middle-aged woman decides to embrace possibility after her car is hit by a meteorite in Hideyuki Hirayama’s charmingly quirky dramedy, Tsuyukusa (ツユクサ). Though dealing with difficult subjects such as grief, depression, alcoholism, and loneliness, a spirit of warmth and generosity shines through in the quiet seaside town as its various inhabitants each in their own way find themselves pondering new beginnings and while discovering that change may be scary it’s worth taking the risk for greater happiness. 

49-year-old Fumi (Satomi Kobayashi) lives in a quiet village by the sea and works in a textile factory where the atmosphere is laidback and collaborative. For poignant reasons only later disclosed she’s formed a close relationship with her friend’s son Kohei (Taiyo Saito) who is obsessed with all things space. It’s Kohei who decides that whatever it was that hit her car while she was driving home one evening was probably a meteorite and declares that Fumi must be one very lucky lady because the chances of witnessing a meteorite strike are all but infinitesimal. Fumi too seems to take it as a good omen, wearing the moon rock that Kohei finds at the beach as a pendant and symbol of the new possibilities in her life. 

Meanwhile it seems clear that Fumi is dealing with a series of things including a problem with alcohol which is why she’s been attending a local support group which is surprisingly large given the size of the town. Then again she’s not the only one dealing with crisis, her two friends from the factory are also at a point of transition. Kohei’s mother Nao (Kami Hiraiwa) is at odds with her husband (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) who has accepted a job offer in another town but suggests that she and Kohei stay behind in part because he is the boy’s stepfather and worries about uprooting him especially as Kohei does not seem to have fully accepted him as a father. Taeko (Noriko Eguchi) meanwhile has embarked on a secret affair with a Buddhist monk (rakugo performer Tougetsuanhakusyu) she somewhat transgressively met when he read the sutras at her late husband’s funeral. Fumi is gradually warming up to new love of her own in taking a liking to Goro (Yutaka Matsushige), a melancholy gentleman of around her own age whom she often sees sadly blowing the tsuyukusa leaves like a harmonica in the local park. 

The village is for them a gentle space of healing, many coming from the city following some kind of emotional trauma and looking for a quiet place to escape their sorrow. Even Kohei is caught at a point of transition, exclaiming that all the adults he knows are liars while attempting to deal with his first real heartbreak and contemplating moving away from all his friends and the town he grew up in with a man he doesn’t quite feel he knows. But then as Goro points out, the tsuyukusa grow everywhere and happiness is always in reach as long as you decide to go out and fetch it. Fumi may originally over invest in the symbolism of the moon rock, as if being hit by a meteorite really was an omen of change and a kind of good luck charm in itself rather than a funny thing that happened and caused her to reevaluate her life but finally realises that she didn’t need a meteor strike to give her permission to be happy. 

Even so the quirky seaside town does seem to be a cheerful place with a series of colourful characters even if many of them are lonely or displaced. Fumi’s boss is forever doing tai chi by the beach after apparently being left by his wife and unsuccessfully travelling to Taiwan in search of a new one. The guy who runs the local bar used to be a whaler and sends customers out on errands on his behalf, while the old man who runs the alcohol support group finds his job so stressful that it’s driving him to drink. “Just fix the pain, please. Then I can keep on going” Fumi tells a dentist though it’s a fairly apt metaphor for life. Reminiscent of the work of Naoko Ogigami of which Satomi Kobayashi is perhaps a representative star, Tsuyukusa never shies away from the darker corners of life but nevertheless allows its warmhearted protagonist to rediscover joy if only in the simple things. 


Tsuyukusa screened as part of this year’s Five Flavours Film Festival and is available to stream in Poland until 4th December.

Original trailer (no subtitles)