51st Chicago International Film Festival Screening #5: “Banana Pancakes and the Children of Sticky Rice” (Netherlands)

“Banana Pancakes and the Children of Sticky Rice” (Netherlands)
Directed by Daan Veldhuizen

bananapancakesThis gorgeous documentary attempts to answer the age old question of what happens when an untouched-for-centuries Laotian village is suddenly besieged by backpackers, culture seekers and Lonely Planet followers. And for the most part, it succeeds. The villagers of Muang Ngoi it focuses on are worth the time investment, there exists a decent documentary narrative, and the imagery, as mentioned, is unbelievable.

But, if I’m to be honest, the word languid comes to mind. And by languid, I mean LANGUID! It moves at the pace of the sleepy village. And I dozed off more than once…for seconds, mind you, but doze, I did. Veldhuizen has chosen an interesting subject, but the changes brought on by these cultural encounters don’t seem quite abrupt or severe enough to capture the viewer. It works best when the camera focuses its gaze on the tourists – especially when they complain about how tourist-y the village has become. These moments of irony are delicious, but are far too rare. And the director obviously has no love for American visitors. He includes just one…and…well…it’s a moment worth savoring, so I’ll leave it for you to witness.

If you love Asian culture, then “Banana Pancakes…” is a must see. For everyone else…there are certainly better out there…just maybe not as pretty.

Written 10/22/2015

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