Noy Thrupkaew

Noy Thrupkaew is a Prospect senior correspondent.

Recent Articles

Sight Unseen

The artist was spread-eagled against the wall. Dinh Q. Le had been putting up an enormous piece of artwork in the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum when he realized that he was missing his level, one of only two available for the installation of Saigon Open City (SOC), Vietnam's first international art show since 1962. By the time I arrived, he had been teetering on a ladder for 10 minutes, holding up the corners of the piece while assistants scurried around the city to find his equipment. Le's splayed-out body formed an inadvertent counterpoint to the piece he was installing -- U.S. artist Nancy Spero's intriguing Helicopter, Victim, Astronaut . The work features a looming helicopter, a beheaded Christ figure, and a ghoulish astronaut on an umbilical tether, arms raised in victory or possibly in an attempt to grab Jesus' severed head as it soars like a football. Touchdown and hallelujah! Le looked far less triumphant on his ladder, where he stayed for another 30 minutes. "I'm doing...

War is Beautiful

In his latest repulsive film, Roberto Benigni trots out the formula that served him so well in Life Is Beautiful -- a backdrop of real-life terror, and a self-inflating display of self-effacing love. In the Oscar-winning Beautiful , the backdrop was the Holocaust; in The Tiger and the Snow , it's the Iraq war. The difference is a matter of degree -- in Life , Benigni did not entirely upstage the horrors around him; in Tiger , however, he swallows them whole. Life Is Beautiful was exhausting enough -- after I was done crying, I felt as if my soul had been wrung out like an old snotrag. Centering on a man (Benigni, who also wrote and directed) trying to protect his son from the horrors of a concentration camp by pretending it's all a game , the film was billed as a "simple fable." But Life Is Beautiful had none of the hands-off aspect the word "simple" might imply -- Benigni did everything but mace viewers in the face to get them to start bawling. And if a fable is a tale told to point...

Bare Necessities

What sustains a life? Food, water, shelter, certainly -- all the tangibles taught in a survival course. But the ineffables -- ideas, loves, passions, and pleasures -- spell life or death, too, as Marjane Satrapi's new book Chicken with Plums attests. This Romantic notion has been around at least as long as consumptive poets have been swooning under weeping willows. But in her latest graphic novel, the tale of her great-uncle, a famed musician who loses his beloved instrument and his will to live, Satrapi strips down the idea and gives it a stark beauty. Plums is Satrapi's most structurally daring narrative, and perhaps her most subtle in its depiction of her hotbed homeland, Iran. In her past three works, Satrapi has made a name for herself by braiding together intimate, memoir-ish narratives with Iranian history. In Plums , a eulogy to the death of pleasure, Satrapi works on both the personal and political scale once again. Her references to Iran are more allusive than in her...

Broken Pieces

Will U.S. audiences avert their eyes at the latest Iraq documentary? A splintered mirror in three shards, Iraq in Fragments reflects realities that U.S. viewers haven't wanted to see -- jangling fear, black blooms of smoke, Iraqis' faces flickering with rage or pinched hope. Like its setting, Fragments presents too many ruptured ideals and bruised lives, too few exits and settled truths -- which is precisely why Americans cannot afford the luxury of looking away. Poetic rather than prescriptive, allusive rather than allegorical, James Longley's guerilla masterwork brings us to where we should have started in Iraq: the humble regard of people whose problems cannot be fixed in a month, much less in the blink of an Iraq-fatigued eye. The film's title refers to its structure -- three wrenching portraits -- as much as it does to the schisms that are tearing the country apart. Longley draws on the fault lines in tracing the tales of a Sunni boy, a Shi'a uprising, and Kurdish families...

Widow Maker

Advocacy and art -- how does a filmmaker fuse the two? How to deliver a clear argument without sacrificing the ambiguity, the authorial humility that thought-provoking art demands? Indian-Canadian director Deepa Mehta relies on a triad of techniques -- an embrace of mythic scope, finely wrought personal detail, and political clarity. It's a difficult balancing act -- and Mehta's latest film is unfortunately one of her least successful. The last of the filmmaker's “Elements” trilogy, Water takes on the plight of India's widows, as illuminated through a story of forbidden love. Mehta aims for the epic with the film's backdrop -- it's set in the late 1930s, when the hope of Gandhian reform was sweeping the nation -- and her ardent use of hyper-romantic Bollywood conventions. A worthy cause, a worthy filmmaker, one much celebrated for her cinematic skill and her dedication to women's lives and social justice. So why does Water fall flat? It's not for lack of a powerful beginning. After a...

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