The camera frequently catches Kae looking off, her brow furrowed or her mouth turned down, her thoughts her own as the people around her discuss her future.
Love on DeliveryDirector: Janus Metz
Cast: Sommai, Kae, Mong, Basit
US date: 2011-03-01 (Stranger Than Fiction)
"When I lived in Thailand, I thought about how I could make a better life for me and my family." Sommai sits quietly, her face shadowed and her posture stiff. Now living in Thy, a Danish fishing community, with her husband of 15 years, Sommai has made a better life -- for herself and her family.
Indeed, as revealed in Janus Metz's Love on Delivery, she has made that making into something of a business, or maybe more a planned community. Over they years, she's helped to find husbands for female relatives, placing ads in local papers, reading through responses with her husband, and sending her cousins or nieces to live with good prospects, in hopes of securing a marriage.
Screening 1 March at the IFC Center as part of Stranger Than Fiction's Winter Series (followed by a Q&A with Metz and his collaborator Sine Plambech), the documentary is at once mesmerizing and perplexing. On one hand, it shows Sommai and her relatives together, an entity unto themselves, playing cards, doing each other's makeup, reflecting on the dreariness of work at the fish factory. On the other hand, they're observed with their men, accommodating and pleasant enough. They've made their peace with their lives and concluded they are indeed better than the sex work Sommai practiced in Pattaya, the "sex city" in Thailand where she met her husband and, as he puts it, he "fell for her, I must say."
As he remembers his trip in 1991 ("To be honest, I went there to have a good time"), Sommai still lives with the perception of Thai women in Denmark (and elsewhere). At work, she notes, "Someone said, are you for sale? They consider Thai girls prostitutes." The Thai women around Sommai are well aware of this, and take comfort in their doting husbands and their own projects. Basit has a child she hopes to bring to live with her in Thy, and her husband, Frank, means to help her do it. While Thai law automatically assigns custody to the husband in the case of divorce, Basit has hope. But it's against some odds. As her phone calls with her son feature tensions and silences ("Why won't you talk to me?" she asks, her face taut as she hears the answer: "I don’t want to talk to you"), she maintains faith, in Frank as well as the promise Sommai helped her to believe, that life for her family will be "better."
As the film begins, Sommai's niece Kae has just arrived in Thy, in order to find a husband. She has a child back in Thailand, whom she hopes to bring to live with her once she's settled. Without Danish she relies on her aunt and sister, Mong, to translate for her. The camera frequently catches her looking off, her brow furrowed or her mouth turned down, her thoughts her own as the people around her discuss her future -- in Danish.
The women's stories run parallel to the men's. Mong's husband John remembers his own route to her, his divorce and loneliness. "I know of some other marriages between Thais and Danes," he says, and so he contacted Sommai. "When I saw a picture of Mong," John remembers, he knew he had to meet her. As he speaks, the camera shows the couple in home videos, his devotion to her apparent in the many images he's made of her since seeing that first one. She smiles, he playfully touches her breast. They made the decision to marry, he says, within three weeks.
As Mong and Basit share their stories, Kai looks out on what might be hers. Sommai and her husband place an ad, select a suitor, and soon take Kae to meet Kjeld. There's a time limit on their effort, as Kae's visa expires in three months. Sommai explains to her, "He will want you to live with him first, first they want to be with you. That's the way it is in Denmark." She and Mong encourage Kae to accept such customs, to "hug and kiss" him. During one phone call with her sister, the camera stays close on Kae in Kjeld's kitchen, as he's apparently in the dining room. As she hangs up, the camera pans left to show Kjeld suddenly standing beside her.
The very abruptness of his appearance helps you to feel what she might be feeling: in his house, to her, he's an intruder, while she also feels vaguely ill at ease. The camera follows her, walking from room to room: the daylight through windows is lovely, but the walls still feel close. She too has a child she wants to bring to Denmark. As Sommai presses her a few days later, wondering whether the match will work out ("I'm afraid she'll lose face if she doesn’t find a husband here"), Kae's response is restrained. "I think he's good enough," she tells her aunt, facing her across the kitchen table. "What do you think?" Sommai nods, "I think he's good enough."
As the film shows desperation on all parts, it also shows the tenderness of their efforts to come together. As discomforting as the arrangements can seem, the practice is hardly unlike other mating rituals. Near film's end, Frank and Basit look through his attic, as he suggests the changes they might make to bring young Samlee to live with them. "The rafters would have to be raised," Frank observes, "But the roof is just fine." Basit looks off.