What to say about Mekong 2030? It is beautiful. Like, gorgeous. Worth the price of the ticket alone just visually.
Mekong 2030 is 5 short stories centred on the Mekong River. Now, maybe you know more than me, but I didn’t have a scoob about the Mekong River before this movie. It’s fucking massive, stretching from Tibet in China, coming down across Vietnam, Loas, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia. It is central to the lives, communities and economies of those along its waterway. As the source of life for so many people, it has also has a spiritual and cultural dimension.
The 5 stories are speculative fiction depicting the near future – 2030 – and each one comes from a filmmaker in a different country the Mekong flows through.
The first is Soul River, from Cambodia, which tells a simple fable of an indigenous hunter coming upon a buried statue of the Buddha. His community has been displaced and his village destroyed by recent flooding due to the damming of the river upstream by governments looking to turn a buck, and the subsequent ecological impact and climate change. He finds the Buddha on his people’s old hunting grounds and decides to dig it up and move it to the new village, as part of his people’s heritage. However, he is interrupted by the land’s legal owner, who is flat broke and wants to take the Buddha to sell and use the money to move away to a better life. They squabble and eventually settle on selling the Buddha and splitting the money, which the hunter justifies will help set up his people in their new village and compensate them a little for their losses. But as he and owner head downriver together, their greed grows, believing they can get a higher and higher price for the Buddha, with more and more selfish fantasies of what they will do with the money. Removing the spirituality from the land leads to ruin.
The second story is The Che Brother from Loas, which a miniature heist movie. In a world with a new airborne disease, a young and idealistic son finds out his older, rich and evil brother has kidnapped their mother in order to sell her blood to help develop a vaccine. He teams up with his sister to storm the evil brother’s palace and save their mother from his vampiric machinations.
The third is The Forgotten Voices of the Mekong from Myanmar, which tells the story of a naive village chief selling the gold mining rights to his people’s land, to the detriment of the whole community.
The fourth is The Line from Thailand, centred on a pretentious art exhibit taking place in the city on the subject of the Mekong River. In this world very divorced from the setting of the river, the artist can make a decision on absolutely nothing, and is only articulate when talking about the meaning of her video project, trying to represent time as space, distance travelled, and the duration of history as a physical measurement. Here in this minimalist gallery, in the stainless steel staff kitchenette, the sounds of the river and its jungle plays over the sight of the water in the coffeemaker and the electrically powered devices, a world away but connected.
The last is The Unseen River from Vietnam, about a young punk couple travelling to a Buddhist temple in the riverbank forest to seek a cure for his insomnia. The 100-foot-tall white marble Buddha looks placidly head and shoulders out of the canopy, but when they get up close the entrance to the temple is like a tacky, garish, neon hallucination inside. Yet the monks still live there and still dole out wisdom. Perhaps, the temple has changed in appearance, like the tattooed, pierced, and dyed punk couple, but the souls of both are the same as ever.
A really interesting film, beautifully shot and resonant with the love of place.