As ubiquitous on the fall festival circuit as it is excellent, Thai border drama Manta Ray ticks all the boxes: it’s an accomplished arthouse hit, a new exciting voice to discover, and a timely story with serious social cachet. Director Phuttiphong Aroonpheng has crafted a spellbinding debut that frames the issue of the Rohingya people (the Muslim minority that has long been persecuted in Myanmar, driving refugees toward the borders of neighboring countries like Thailand) indirectly, focusing on the plight of one man with no voice and the fisherman who takes him in. A former DP, Aroonpheng advances his story almost purely through images and music (the French duo Snowdrops do a lot of heavy lifting with their substantial score), but the warmth and the intensity of his humanism is never sacrificed to the aesthetics.
After winning the Orizzonti prize in Venice, the film has embarked on a long festival tour that increasingly feels like a victory lap. I sat down with Aroonpheng on his return to Asia for his last festival of the year, Macao, where Manta Ray plays in the Best of Fest section.