An unpretentious no-frills look at the male ego and its struggles with stagnancy, Romanian director Paul Negoescu’s A Month in Thailand (screening this Wednesday at Double Double Land in Toronto in conjunction with MDFF) falls nicely in the same category as similarly minded North American filmmakers Noah Baumbach, Whit Stillman, and Lena Dunham. A meticulous and decidedly unplayful look at a twentysomething man forcing himself into a fairly useless existential crisis for the sake of self discovery, Negoescu’s work is a pointed piss take aimed squarely at wounding male pride right where it counts.
On New Year’s Eve, Radu (Andrei Mateiu) has decided he’s had enough, finally making the decision to dump his loving and slightly clingy girlfriend Adina (Ioana Anastasia Anton). In a lengthy sequence where they finally end their nine months together, Radu can’t even really give her a concrete answer as to why they have decided to break up despite droning on and on about his need to be honest with her. She’s simply too much of a homebody and deep down he feels like she’s being selfish and keeping him all to herself. He can barely get her to go out to a party, let alone try to convince her to go on a month long vacation with him to Thailand – a gesture that he thinks will make up for her spoiling of him.
In truth, Radu really wants to sever his ties to Adina so he can pursue Nadia (Sinziana Nicola), an ex that he has never quite gotten over. Negoescu’s hook is a simple, but effective one: Nadia and Adina are basically the same person and Radu is simply too self obsessed and oblivious to his own nature that he can’t figure out that he’s standing still in life. It’s a story that can’t be told with a great deal of style because of how everything has to be laid perfectly bare. If Radu wants to be transparent about his situation to himself and the audience, the film has to match his simplistic way of thinking. At times the film isn’t much to look at and sometimes repetitive (which could be a side effect of Negoescu making the jump from shorts to features for the first time here), but it fits the film’s central crisis of faith nicely.
What’s so smart about A Month in Thailand is the sharpness with which Radu’s motives are called into question. After dumping Adina, Radu embarks on a boozy quest to try and find a woman that he thinks can solve all of his relationship problems, when really all he truly wants is someone who will cater to the whims that he feels aren’t being catered to. By all accounts and what we as an audience know, Adina was a good girlfriend and Radu’s malaise seems unfounded. Yet at the same time, Radu isn’t immediately made out to be a bad human being. He’s merely confused and somewhat idiotic in terms of how little he thinks things through. The biggest and most important revelation, however, is that by the end it becomes apparent that Radu doesn’t want someone who can make him feel good about himself, but rather that he wants to date a female version of himself. It’s something that he had twice before, but both women in his life are the ones who have the self-awareness that Radu lacks.
It’s a trenchant gaze into the male psyche that can be so infinitely psychoanalyzed that it might as well be holding a mirror up to the person watching it, male or female. It’s a look at the awkward point where boredom and dependency meet that dare to flip around a tire old axiom. You probably do know what you’ve got when it’s gone, but you don’t actually want to admit it.