Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's minimalist feature confirms a distressing yet completely plausible trend, which defines our age as the one where human memory has lost its true purpose.
Though that assumption might sound nonsensical at first, it's not a surprise that people nowadays tend to rely only on artificial methods of storing what they've experienced in the past. In the process, they're subconsciously making themselves totally dependent on technology and thus making personal connections seem all the more fictitious and transitory.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, genuine photographic memory is being gradually replaced by all kinds of digital cameras and mobile phones. Although the fact that we are able to save all precious memories with just one simple click is somewhat comforting, it's never a good idea to place trust in machines as the superior species (that's also one of the lessons so many apocalyptic sci-fi films have taught us). People often get lost in the enormous amounts of data they store over the years. Counting on hard drives as the ultimate and most reliable means of preserving memories can be sometimes truly deceptive.
36, the unconventional Thai director's first feature-length film, focuses on a 30-ish photo-obsessed woman named Sai (Koramit Vajrasthira). She's been assigned by her boss to scout for location in an abandoned building somewhere in Thailand, and that's where the first few scenes take us. Her work partner is the good-humored and hilariously camera-shy art director Oom (Wanlop Rungkamjad). Though the two characters start off on the wrong foot, they eventually grow fond of each other through the magic of photography in a scene, which might be Oom's once in a lifetime breakthrough moment.
The subtle love story is cut short abruptly as the narrative moves two years ahead. Sai, now working for a different company, has to retrieve the photos taken with Oom, but finds out that the hard drive is broken. She goes to a specialist, however the damage that's been done is too serious. Unable to retrieve all the digital memories from those jolly days spend with Oom Sal looses her enthusiasm and passion and falls into melancholy, trying to get in touch with a romance that hasn't been fulfilled.
Sal's fanatic approach to hi-tech instruments makes her incapable of trusting her own senses. When the friendly IT technician tries to comfort her and says but you still have your memories she doesn't know how to respond, as if though she wasn't aware that such things exists. Her world, composed of carefully arranged photographs, lost its true meaning when one of the seemingly incorruptible pieces disappeared so suddenly.
Thamrongrattanarit created an experimental and short but distinctly beautiful and thought-provoking piece in which 36 wonderfully composed shots (the exact number of frames in an analogue camera film) serve as a spot-on social commentary on the condition of a world that's inhabited by young people who often can't distinguish between what's real and what's digital. Their wholehearted dependency on computers and photographs as the most straightforward way of communication is like a bubble that's prone to burst anytime, given the transitory nature of such things and a tendency to break down in the most unpredictable moments.
Though most of the action takes place outside of our eyes of the and many of the dialogues are heard only in the background, those more or less expressive 36 shots that we see aren't at all random. Whether it's a shelf full of hard drives, a regular apartment or a computer screen, all those images have one thing in common - they refer to the main theme of the film with specific accuracy by bringing to mind the art of photography.
This beautiful, atmospheric, vintage style imagery, along with a chilling soundtrack and restrained but realistic love story, are in perfect harmony with 36's valuable if not obvious review of the digital age's many apparent shortcomings.