An unnamed migrant worker lives alone in a container, collecting other people’s trash to furnish his own living space. He builds the illusion of a home for himself and despite the loneliness, is contented with a simple life.
But one day, he loses his job and his container is towed away with him in it. After an emotional and arduous journey, he wakes up. He has nothing to his name, yet strangely enough, he’s hopeful and awash in calm.
Emon’s film won the Wide Angle/ Asian Short Film Competition at the 2012 Busan International Film Festival, and was recently nominated for the New Currents Award at the 2014 edition of the festival. The Container was also the opening film of the 2012 International Short and Independent Film Festival of Bangladesh International Competition, and has screened in Indonesia, Italy and Sri Lanka.
While the premise of having one’s home towed away might sound bizarre, The Container is in fact inspired by real-life events. We speak to Emon, currently a final-year student at the Korea National University of Arts, to find out more.
Could you tell me more about the real-life story that inspired The Container?
Emon: A lot of Bangladeshi migrant workers in South Korea live in a container near the factory buildings, so that they don’t have to pay extra rental for the accommodation. I was visiting one such worker in his container, and he told me the story of his friend, whose visa had expired.
The friend, whose name I cannot reveal, had a lot of loans to pay back in Bangladesh, and couldn’t leave the country immediately. So he would stay away in the day and take shelter in his container at night. One morning, just like in the film, the container was actually towed away by a big truck, and he woke up to find himself in another part of Seoul.
The story struck me so deeply, and I immediately thought that it would be a very interesting story.
What considerations did you make when adapting the story into film?
Emon: A lot of migrant worker films tend to be one-sided. The directors usually show the audience a poor man and how he’s struggling. We feel pity and sympathy for him.
I didn’t want to develop a story like that which has any kind of controversy. So my one intention was to set the film in a very isolated space, where a man actually constructs his house from the trash of others, and this becomes his only home.
I notice that there is barely any dialogue in the film. Is silence your preferred style of storytelling?
Emon: One of the main reasons was that whenever you use dialogue, there are a lot of related topics you have to cover in the script. I did not want to cover any issue other than the personal journey of this migrant worker, to be thrown out from the container into a bizarre place.
Initially in the writing process, there was a lot of dialogue. But I later omitted dialogue during the shooting phase, and decided to shoot with the actions only. And I received feedback from audiences at the Busan International Film Festival and Dhaka International Film Festival that they appreciated the film because of its silence and simplicity.
At the end of the film, the protagonist finds himself in front of the sea, having lost everything. He seems to be strangely calm. Why did you choose to end the film in this way?
Emon: When the guy finds himself in front of the sea, he is surprised by peacefulness of nature, and it gives him a new kind of a hope.
In the real-life story, the guy built a new life for himself, and he’s actually happily married to a Korean lady now. What can I say, real life is much more beautiful than cinema itself, and in The Container, we wanted to artistically portray that beauty.
Yes, you can have a really terrible period in life, but if you just overcome that phase, there is a very big possibility in life of regaining your strength.
I wanted to use that metaphor in the film, so that’s why I did not want to end the film anywhere other than the sea.
In the film, we see how simple spaces like a container, or even the open sea can become home. What is your definition of home?
Emon: It doesn’t matter which society you belong to, a home is always what you make it for yourself. For me, a home is where a person feels that he is safe.
In the film, when the container is being carried away, the guy actually remembers his mother — he utters, “ma”. It was as if he was in his mother’s lap, and the container became a symbol of shelter and of comfort.
The Container eventually led up to your debut feature film Jalal’s Story, which is the first Bangladeshi film to be nominated for the New Currents Award at the Busan International Film Festival. Congratulations on your achievement. Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Emon: The most important thing is the story, just keep it simple and as easy as possible for the audience to understand. Think about the camera, the lighting and the types of shots later. If you have a soulful story, just tell it with genuine passion.