Review: Midlife Crisis, With Pachyderm, in ‘Pop Aye’

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Thaneth Warakulnukroh and Bong the elephant in “Pop Aye,” directed by Kirsten Tan.

Credit
Kino Lorber

There’s a wonderful moment in “Pop Aye,” when an elephant gives the camera — and you — the stink eye. Then again, maybe the elephant, called Pop Aye and played by a majestic giant named Bong, is just exhausted, namely with people. You can’t blame him. He’s been tramping around the countryside for much of the movie, usually in the fumbling company of Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh), an architect from Bangkok who, with his marriage on the rocks and his career seriously on the skids, has set off on his midlife crisis not behind the wheel of a new sports car but alongside an old elephant.

They make a funny pair, by turns amusing and puzzling, though also melancholic and touching. For the most part, these variations seem by design in a movie that flirts with assorted narrative conventions and fluctuating moods without ever settling into a familiar template. It takes some time, though, to figure out what the writer-director Kirsten Tan has in store for Thana and Pop Aye, who are first seen trudging together along a dusty, bleak stretch of road. They’re nowhere in particular, certainly nowhere remotely inviting, and before long they’re trying to catch a ride, which is about as challenging as you might expect when one of the hitchhikers is an elephant.

Thana, it emerges, is on his way to his childhood home. His reasons emerge piecemeal, relayed in regular flashbacks that create a mosaic-like portrait of a man whose life somehow, somewhere went wrong. Not catastrophically wrong, mind you, just disappointingly adrift and askew. That seems to be the idea, although it takes an attentive, patient viewer to fit together the shards that Ms. Tan scatters throughout, and to see how the flashbacks to Thana’s childhood, with its pleasures and dark…

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