Rafał Skalski, PL 2016, 68’
International Premiere
Monday August 8th, 11.00, Cinema Teatro Kursaal
Tuesday August 9th, 18.30, L'altra Sala

en / it / de / fr

Although, as customs still dictate, all young Swiss men must attend mandatory national service to become respectable adults, Thailand’s approach to the ritual is much more spiritual and personal. As a matter of fact, 70% of males become monks every year for at least a few weeks, while some choose to remain so for life. Through a procession highly celebrated by their families, every Thai man can thus enrol in a Buddhist temple. This is the subject of director Rafał Skalski’s film Monk of the Sea, which centres on the life of the young Ball.

The 20 something Ball, who works as a car seller, hasn’t been able to go on holidays for several years. He drowns his angst and gloominess in alcohol and parties every night with his friends. Sometimes, he will even drink and dance the night away, go back to his parents’ place, take a shower, get dressed, and go to work. However, this ritual will soon be a thing of the past, as Ball has set himself a period of two weeks before he ordains as a Buddhist monk.

Skilfully avoiding ethnological didacticism, the Polish documentary maker tackles his topic from an angle that allows him to contrast traditional mores with the growing westernisation of the South East Asian society. Indeed, neither Ball nor his friends seem to hold any religious belief beyond an acknowledgment of the importance of Buddhism in Thailand. Humorous scenarios emerge from this temporal and spiritual shift, because of which the seemingly immutable monasteries are also affected by techno-social changes.

Rafał Skalski always stays in the background and never indulges in judgemental commentaries on his protagonist or his lifestyle. Rather, he invites the audience to get closer to him and follow him through his initiation. While Ball dives into the everyday life of this spiritual island and discovers a kind of instantaneous religiousness, one could see the massive Buddha statue that monks are assembling as an image of his fragile beliefs that only time, patience, and dedication can foster. Monk of the Sea is a humble film that offers a fascinating snapshot of a world which finds itself as a cross-road between eras.

Loïc Valceschini