Beyond the bridge

Beyond the Bridge by Ian Masters & Jon Smith

  • Title:
    Beyond The Bridge (2016)
  • Screenplay:
    Ian Masters & Jon Smith
  • Released:
    World Premiere -Tokyo Film Festival 2016
  • Director:
    Kulikar Sotho
  • Production Company:
    Hanuman Films
  • Genre:
  • Running Time:
    30 mins
  • Festivals:
    Tokyo Film Festival, October 2016
  • Awards:

  • Synopsis:

    At its heart, this is a simple story.

  • FUKUDA (60) returns to Cambodia as the wealthy owner of a successful construction and engineering company to rebuild the Japanese-Cambodia Friendship Bridge after the Paris Peace Accords of 1991 and the establishment of UNTAC in 1992. During a two-year period, a relationship develops with his interpreter and Personal Assistant, SOTHEARY (40s). Upon completing the bridge in 1994, and attending an event to thank him for his personal and generous donations to a number of cultural projects, Fukuda is about to return to Japan.

  • The night before he leaves, he invites Sotheary for dinner to thank her for her service over the preceding years, unaware of the respect and deep affection which she holds for him. Emotionally repressed and formal, Fukuda had no idea of this, just as she, adhering to the social conventions of their different status, had been unable to express her feelings for him. Moreover, she did not realise he was leaving.
    This awkward leave-taking prefigures a final crossing of the bridge by Fukuda. During that crossing we come to learn that not only had he rebuilt the bridge, but he had been a member of the original team who built it, some thirty years before. Standing at the apex of the bridge, the missing section bombed out by the Khmer Rouge in 1973, we realise that as a younger man he had fallen deeply and profoundly in love with a young Khmer woman, MEALEA. Their long relationship could not be countenanced by Fukuda’s father, but as the war encroached on Phnom Penh, they finally made a plan to marry, escape, and return to Japan. Before they could leave, she was killed making the dangerous journey to bring her mother to Phnom Penh. The bridge was destroyed and Fukuda was left an emotional wreck, finally being evacuated out of Phnom Penh before its fall in 1975.

  • The night before Mealea left for the last time, she had sung to him a Khmer song, which he recognised as a version of a popular Japanese ballad from the 60s. He promised her that he would sing her the Japanese version when they were together again in Tokyo, a promise he was never able to fulfil.

  • Standing on the bridge for the last time, Fukuda opens up emotionally, releasing his emotions finally to fulfil his promise, in the only way he can. His car arrives to take him away. He leaves Cambodia.
    The simplicity of the story however, allows us to make a bold formal narrative experiment in filmmaking. The past and present storylines are not so much revealed as constructed, like the bridge itself. Eliding the missing middle years of Fukuda’s re-making in Japan between 1975 and 1992, the film structure mirrors past and present; the period after the original building of the bridge in the early 60s as a young man is reflected back on the later period of its rebuilding as an older man in the early 90s.
    In this way, every scene is a formalistic reflection or mirror. The awkwardness and emotional repression of his relationship with Sotheary is reflected in the tender openness of his relationship with Mealea. As we reveal the story with Sotheary in chronological order, his past with Mealea recedes in reverse. His dinner with Sotheary finds its mirror in a simple meal shared with Mealea. The traditional village cultural performance they witnessed in their youth, reflected in the stiff formalities of a high society performance put on to thank Fukuda for his donations to the arts in the present. Linking these two periods of his life, the opposing sides of the destroyed bridge, is the song, Honemade Aishite, a simple romantic ballad in Japanese and Khmer. The promise fulfilled to Mealea becomes the final missing span, completing the emotional bridge between past and present.

  • In this very formalistic construction, naturalistic visual story-telling is distilled to its essence. Every beat is chosen not only for its resonance to the period of his life, but also its resonance to its mirror image. Every scene in its construction, scene length, blocking and shots will find an echo in another.

  • Punctuating these reflective moments, are montages of the three historical moments which have marked Fukuda’s life: the building of the bridge in 1960s, the destruction of the bridge and the fall of Phnom Penh in the mid 70s, and the ceasefire, peace accords and the bridge rebuilding in the early 90s.

  • The film then becomes a highly constructed visual poem on reflection and loss, rather than a linear reveal.

  • Beyond the Bridge Still Photography © Kimlong Meng