Die Tomorrow (2017)

Die Tomorrow first published by Film Stories magazine

Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit is an independent Thai director who captures his constant, elusive theme – transience – within formal structuring constraints. So, for example, in his feature debut 36 (2012) Thamrongrattanarit confined himself to 36 fixed-frame shots to conjure a fleeting relationship in a changing cityscape; and in Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy (2013) he used 410 consecutive tweets from a stranger for the surreally fanciful reconstruction of a girl’s confused adolescence. Now for Thamrongrattanarit’s fifth feature Die Tomorrow, death itself becomes the ultimate signifier of ephemerality, as he takes six obituaries, and weaves around them six dramatisations of what immediately preceded or followed these deaths. These episodes are punctuated by interviews with young children – and a 103-year-old man – on their feelings about mortality.

In the first episode, young women celebrate their imminent graduation in a hotel room, and doctor their newspaper horoscopes to reflect their realistic expectations or idealised desires – blithely unaware that one of them is about to be struck down by an unalterable event in her future. The episode ends, post mortem, with a maid cleaning away all evidence – including the pen-marked horoscopes – that the women were ever in the room. For all its apparent banality, this image subtly evokes how brief our stay is, and how little trace we leave behind after checking out.

In another episode, perfectly capturing the film’s bittersweet tone, a rising actress is conflicted in her response to news of an accident: for while she is sad at the death of her more famous colleague, she is happy with the career opportunities opened up by her colleague’s sudden absence. When life comes to an end, life also carries on.  

Die Tomorrow is full of Thamrongrattanarit’s characteristic experiments with form. It opens with the persistent sound of a ticking clock, marking the passage of time that is the film’s central preoccupation. Similarly calibrating the elapsing moments, a video timecode appears in the screen’s top left. After text reveals that every second two people die in the world, a number appears beside the timecode, counting the number of people who have died over the film’s duration. The closest analogues for the film’s episodic fixation on life’s end is Jörg Buttgereit’s bleak Der Todesking (1990), or even one of those ABCs of Death horror anthologies – but Thamrongrattanarit’s memento mori is altogether more poetic, gentle and humane. Give it some of your allotted time.

© Anton Bitel