Manta Ray takes a hypnotic look at a politically urgent topic. When a Thai fisherman discovers a dying Rohingya refugee in a swamp, he saves him and welcomes him into his life, and an unlikely friendship is formed. Thai cinematographer Phuttiphong Aroonpheng's directorial debut is intellectually challenging, with much of the story lying in what's left unsaid – but for those lulled into Aroonpheng's sensual rhythms, a moving, heartbreaking tale of human connection is on offer.
The unnamed fisherman is played with goofy sweetness by Wanlop Rungkumjad, while Aphisit Hama plays the refugee who the fisherman calls "Thongchai," after a Thai pop star. Thongchai is mute throughout the entire film, leaving Hama to communicate his gratitude and grief without words; he more than rises to the challenge. The fisherman may or may not have been complicit in the persecution of Rohingyas, which is hinted at before he mysteriously disappears. A devastated Thongchai is surprised when the fisherman's ex-wife then shows up at his home, and the two enter into their own strange version of her life with the fisherman.
From here, Aroonpheng's third act becomes confusing – there are ambiguous supernatural themes, and momentary glimpses of further tragedies – but the gorgeous cinematography is enough to enchant even those who may have lost their way with the story. Underneath these surreal moments is a tribute to lost Rohingya souls, and while part of me wishes they had been given a voice in this story, the absence of it echoes loudly, and is perhaps more impactful. The stateless ethnic group is often described as the most persecuted on the planet, and Manta Ray pays tribute to them with mesmerising visual poetry.
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Cast: Wanlop Rungkumjad, Aphisit Hama, Rasmee Wayrana
Director: Phuttiphong Aroonpheng
Running Time: 105 minutes
Rating: M (violence)
Verdict: A puzzling but stirring portrait of human connection
When: Screens again July 26, Event Queen St, 12:15pm; July 27, Event Queen St, 6:15pm