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Youth Meets Film: The Next Generation of Writers on Regional Cinema

Here’s to Growing Up: That Day of the Month

Part of a two-part feature on coming-of-age short films from Cambodia and Thailand.

 

“Before they were mothers, they had been the most devoted of friends.”
“And their feet move… crushing a circle in the soft smooth flowering grass.”
– adapted from Sappho’s poetry

That Day of the Month (Jirassaya Wongsutin, Thailand) treads several fine lines: innocence and sexuality, friendship and romance, youth and maturity. Menstruation, as a universal rite of passage for women, represents a loss of innocence for protagonists Goy and Lee as they struggle to weather their growing pains.

The two characters are, as Britney famously sang, “not a girl, not yet a woman.” They are free to skip out on class without serious consequences; free to joke about pregnancy, promiscuity and potential career paths for ‘bimbos’ over notes passed in class. Perhaps there’s a universality to the rituals of teenaged girls – female Singaporean viewers might find the openness and intimacy of Goy and Lee’s banter very familiar.

Jirassaya indulges their languid, even escapist conversation. Sheltered within the four walls of the school’s swimming pool, Goy and Lee toss dreams of a distant future back and forth, the former paddling in the water and the latter ambling by the poolside. “By then, it might be okay to marry a girl.” “It’s okay if she’s rich.” The iPhone is a manifestation of seemingly petty rivalries between them, as Goy sends posed photos and over-affectionate emojis to Pun, and Lee leaves it on silent mode so that Pun’s calls go ignored. It’s not exactly mature, and it brings them no closer to a resolution, but we forgive them easily. After all, they’re still young.

CREDIT: JIRASSAYA WONGSUTIN / SGIFF

CREDIT: JIRASSAYA WONGSUTIN / SGIFF

It’s only when Goy tugs Lee into the pool with her, when they stand (or float) on level ground, when they are suspended in the water in an eternal moment, that the truth of their relationship comes to light. Without her glasses, which sink to the bottom of the pool, Lee looks painfully vulnerable.

One recognises, at this moment, how reductive it would be to call this simply a story about two girls growing up. Because despite the film’s lighthearted atmosphere – with its tinkling, cheerful piano theme and light-filled frames – darker, more sobering undercurrents run through it that consider the sexuality and feminity of young women.

Menstruation is thought to be a sexual maturation, but it simultaneously represents the protection of female innocence. When Goy’s menstrual cycle stutters out of sync from Lee’s, the consequences range from trivial – just an irregular period – to sobering – an unwanted pregnancy. The psychological and social ramifications are captured in the film’s opening lines: “the good wife is torn, bearing the sins of the husband.” While these issues are never explicitly discussed, their presence is firmly felt, lurking just outside the frame.

Kong Rithdee, film critic and arts editor of the Bangkok Post, shared in a conversation that he found That Day of the Month unique among other Thai films on homosexual relationships; most, he explained, were commercialised and took a stereotypical view of their subject matter. Jirassaya’s film is certainly novel in this discussion, and might benefit from her own perspective as a young woman. But it is worth remembering, as Kong pointed out, that while it addresses social issues, That Day of the Month is ultimately a film about two people.

As the credits roll to that same, delicate piano tune, the viewer might feel a little wistful. There is an irrevocability to growing up, one Jirassaya is understandably unwilling to broach within the confines of a short film, as she returns to the status quo of Goy and Lee’s steady teasing and tenderness. But one leaves the film with the bittersweet awareness of just how fragile and ephemeral this status quo is.

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