It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in Vientiane

Before arriving at capital city of Laos, Vientiane – Rene and I decided to make this our “comfort” layover. Take it easy for a day or two and stretch our legs from the busy trip through the South of Laos. We figured that the capital city would have a lot of Cafes and Bakery shops. We were even fantasizing about indulging some Pizza. After having eaten noodle soup from street side stalls for the past two weeks, we were both craving for Western food. Yes, we managed to eat European food (I actually went for a very tasty ‘Cordon Bleu‘ with ‘Freedom Fries‘ instead of Pizza) – but as for the rest, we managed to keep ourselves so busy that we did leave the place two days later completely tired.

Pha That Luang

But first things first: Since Rene is a stand-up-comedian-one-man-show-artist, he decided to make a small movie. It should be featuring for the main part the juggling of live fish. This might not be a politically correct performance, but it sounded enough funny to me to be curious how to achieve such a weird film. Consequently, I was named as cameraman responsible of filming an improvised street show featuring monks with toilet plows, hi-jacking tuk-tuks, liberating chicken from their cages and – juggling live fish at the Morning Market (Talat Sao) in Vientiane.

To achieve this, we sketched out a route which would permit us to visit both the temples and potential shooting locations at markets. Since the Lao capital is very small and a laid back city, we were able to do everything by foot.

Actually, there is not much which sets Vientiane apart from other big cities in Laos. Nevertheless, an omnipresent police force and one stretch of a 800m long straight four-lane road give a hint that this is actually the main city of the country. At one end of this toy-sized ‘Champs-Elysee‘-boulevard, there is a structure that resembles the Parisian ‘Arc de Triomphe‘, while the other end is taken up by the Presidential Palace.

Although the sightseeing route seemed to be short, I did get my very first blisters on this trip. They were situated between the toes, born through a 10km city walk in flip-flops. Now, I do know how Ania must have felt back in Beijing.

The biggest boulevard in Laos

In that evening, we prepared ourselves for the shooting next day: Rene packed his items for the act and I got familiar with his movie camera. Next morning, we set off to the various locations we researched the previous day. After a few scenes, I started to figure out that the focus shouldn’t be kept on Rene (who was more sort of an Extra during his performance), but on the locals who were the main stars. On-the-go, I learned other tricks – remembering vaguely some basics from the days I did film in Super-8.

Nevertheless, I missed some scenes badly. That was a bit of a put-off for me, because we did not really have a chance to do another take since the acting was improvised. Some of the best shots were the ones where Rene gave me very little instructions about what would happen during his act, because I was more intuitive and improvising as well. By the end of the day, this system worked best for both of us. Kudos to the film crews of the various shows at MTV – or the Borat movie, because shooting improvised street acts is definitely tougher than I ever imagined.

As part of our shooting, we were taking a slow and packed local bus to the outskirts of Vientiane. There lies a Buddha Park alongside the Mekong river as scenic attraction for tourists.

Sandbags protecting the old town from the flooding

Imagine Jean Tinguely or Nikki de St. Phalle born in Laos. Then you know what the Buddha Park (also known as Xien Khuan) is about: A garden full of weird, but beautiful statues, created by a local artist and his team in the late 1950’s. After finalizing our last scenes, we decided to drive back by local bus (U$ 0.40) instead of the faster tuk-tuk (U$ 10). Hey, our movie budget was definitely limited.

Consequently, we were both arriving very tired at the guesthouse in the evening. This was also due to the fact that we decided on the bus ride back to shoot an epilogue with grilled fish – which we couldn’t find in size and shape that was suitable for the film. Therefore, we gave up that idea and went instead with a replacement scene featuring frozen fish in a Vientiane supermarket.

There goes the “comfort” layover. Actually, Vientiane was so far our most stressful and action-packed location. As we found – during the shooting of the movie – a cheap bus for Vang-Vieng (a very touristy place) near the downtown Morning Market, we will try our best to relax there. Insha’Allah.