Many attempts have been made to protest on issues related to cross-country cooperation in ASEAN because many Southeast Asian countries are experiencing similar problems; such as wage inequality, labor safety, to the worst case of illegal labor slavery which is often highlighted by the United Nations. This protest is none other than the background of the increasing opportunity for foreign workers to enter their respective countries. Instead of improving the economy, this often leads to social segregation.
In early August 2022, there was a discourse about ASEAN + 3 (APT) circulating in several Indonesian media due to the impact of the pandemic and the need for strengthening ASEAN countries with three other East Asian countries. The discourse to unite the economic strength of ASEAN countries with three other Asian countries like Japan, South Korea and China. This kind of discourse is an effort to develop the economy of certain regional sectors since 1997, but today the discussion is rolling again to address some of the economic problems that have arisen in several ASEAN countries.
As a reflection of the problem The Blanket (2021) by director Mitpasa Sitthihakpanya from Laos, give us a story about the harsh reality and becomes a form of protest against the national situation which is considered economically lacking significant growth.
A film that takes the point of view of a child named Aiy, who has to help his mother while his father is away to wander. Trying to describe a family’s struggle to survive and still believe that their father is fine even though they haven’t returned for a long time and haven’t sent them any money.
Laos connection with other countries also influences how Mitpasa puts his political lens in this film. The Blanket opens the story with the character of Father who will be separated from his family to work outside the city. And if we look at how the cooperation between ASEAN and other Asian countries, especially China, opens up many new business lines between countries, unfortunately the industries that have grown as a result of this cooperation are not evenly distributed. In the case of Laos only a few cities are affected by the economic growth and these areas are mostly located on national borders. This allows for a lot of migration to certain areas that are considered more economically profitable than in rural areas.
Despite that, Laos is still considered one of the countries with the highest poverty line in Southeast Asia according to the Asian Development Bank in 2021. The opening of lines of cooperation with many other Asian countries opens new hope for dreams for a better life.
Unfortunately, not all hope and expectations can run smoothly. Because there are various problems that occur when a country is faced with open cooperation with other countries. First, the possibility of a wage gap that occurs between local workers and foreign immigrants. Second, several cases noted the illegal recruitment of migrant workers which resulted in the non-fulfillment of workers’ protection rights by the state.
Mitpasa’s The Blanket does not clearly show that there was such an event, but two scenes about the theft of Aiy’s father money by his fellow workers. And the last scene which suggests that Aiy’s father had an accident at work. It is enough to explain in full that something went wrong in his father’s journey to earn a living for his family.
This reminds me of a similar cases of illegal fishing in the China sea, in which Indonesian ship crew members were recruited by Chinese companies. In fact, when they arrived at the job site were illegally employed and their rights were not fulfilled while overseas, some even had to die before they could return to Indonesia.
But actually The Blanket is interesting not only what is shown but also what is not shown on the screen. Instead of showing what happened to Aiy’s father, this film shows what happened to his family. This is actually quite effective in describing the basic reasons why migration occurs; the family’s economic needs. Or maybe from the beginning this film was not designed to tell the effect but focuses on the causes of events. Because sometimes we don’t realize the initial cause because we are looking too far ahead making basic problems always missed to be solved before moving on to bigger problems.
But uniquely, although it is influenced by many things above, I think all the things I write are deliberately obscured by Mitpasa. Not because he considers it unimportant but by using the story from a children’s perspective, it seems he wants to involve the audience in pure ignorance. Without suspicion but sincerity in dealing with things, Mitpasa tries hard to make us very innocent to accept the fact that this world is evil, this world is not saved out there. All we know is that we miss hanging out with all family members.
In other words, this film presents a lot about the economic map of ASEAN and especially Laos. Where every citizen has the opportunity to get a job because of the cooperation between countries in ASEAN, on the other hand it is not balanced with security for every citizen who gets the job. And more importantly this film of course questions how this chain full of violence can be broken? not in an explosive way, but rather in a loving way. That is the father’s love for his own family.