Railway Sleepers (2016) by Sompot Chidgasompongse (T)

A trip through the the trains in Thailand, in first-person perspective

When trains were first introduced to Thailand in the 1890s, through a royal decree heard at the beginning of the documentary, they were seen as a step towards progress and prosperity, but instead, the train system remained frozen in time due to corruption and inefficient management. First time director Sompot Chidgasornpongse spent 8 years, from 2008 to 2016 shooting in various railways in the country, in order to present his trip from the North to the South of Thailand, with his camera sharing the images an actual passenger would witness inside the trains. At the same time, he explains the history of the railways in Thailand, through narration and a sort of an interview with a lines' surveyor.

"Railway Sleepers" will screen at Bertha DocHouse on Sunday, 27 August at 18:20, as part of On The Line, (25th - 28th August) a new season focusing on films which traverse the railways of the world.

Mostly shot with a digital camera, particularly in the interior of the trains, "Railway Sleepers" presents an utterly realistic and very thorough look at the experience of traveling in a train in the country. Starting from the "cheap seats," where traders sell food to the cramped passengers who even fight for their seats, to the tourists and rich Thais in the first class, where they toast, sing, and even have waiters taking their night orders for their breakfast, nothing is left unexamined. Even the existence of a rather large bug on a window is depicted, along with the lamps in the ceiling and the corridors in the train. All of the above are presented through a first person perspective, which, actually, makes the spectator feel as if he was inside the train, with the trait finding its apogee in the shots showing the view from the windows, with a number of images of extreme beauty.


At the same time, Chidgasompongse highlights the various aspects of Thai society, as we witness a woman selling novels to customers according to the year they were born, a students' field trip, armed soldiers checking the passengers, Buddhist monks sitting in peace, people singing and playing music, other sleeping in the carriages, veiled women boarding and disembarking, etc.

Evidently, the documentary is quite uneventful, but this sense is pleasantly interrupted by sequences referring to the history of the railways in the country, which include actual footage through photographs, and induce the production with a sense of nostalgia that fits its general aesthetics quite well.. All of the above are accompanied by the constant rattling of the wheels, which heightens the sense of realism even more.


Through all this, Chidgasompongse creates a metaphor for his country, which seems to move in multicultural paths, but with no clear destination.

"Railway Sleepers" is a difficult film to watch, through its slow an uneventful pace, but if one is patient enough, he will learn a lot about Thai society, as he will witness a travel through the beauties of the country. Furthermore, fans of trains in general will have a blast with this one.


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Asian Film Vault: Railway Sleepers (2016) by Sompot Chidgasompongse (T)
Railway Sleepers (2016) by Sompot Chidgasompongse (T)
A trip through the the trains in Thailand, in first-person perspective
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