‘Happy Old Year’: On Decluttering Ghosts

It’s always the pain in our childhood that defines us later in our lives. It’s the weight of the memory in our hearts that we carry around, like ghosts. And then at times, it manifests into our own relationships and how we handle it. Eventually it comes to a two-way decision: do we exorcise it or let it haunt us?

Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, also known as Aokbab, plays Jean, an interior designer who comes back from Sweden after three years. She plans to renovate her family home into a spacious minimalistic house, but to do that she must declutter all their belongings, one of which includes an old piano her father used to play before he left them.

Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s Happy Old Year puts its ghosts in the form of physical objects: photographs, CDs, accessories, and a large piano. They all define Jean, but their presence has become more of unnecessary guests that she would rather get rid of or return even. But decluttering has proved to be a burden as Jean realizes through her friend Pink (Padcha Kitchaicharoen), that to declutter also means confronting the heart to assess an object’s value.

Throughout the film, we see snippets of Marie Kondo playing on her brother’s laptop. Widely known for her method of throwing things that doesn’t spark joy, Jean seems to adapt the same method, except her methodical practical reasoning comes off cold and insensitive that makes her unlikeable. Jean’s insistence of creating a sense of peace by stripping down the chaos inside her own home comes in conflict with her mother and brother. Eventually she convinces her brother, but her mother finds it hard to let go including the piano.

Aside from the internal family conflict, Jean must also deal with her ex-boyfriend’s (Sunny Suwanmethanont) belongings, which involves finally confronting their past relationship. But like her family, this also proves to be another conflict—one that constantly forces Jean to re-assess her own emotions and ghosts.

By the end of the film, the house is seemingly purged of all the clutters. Its halls, depicting the space, envisioned by Jean at the start of the film is ready for another beginning. But Jean, doesn’t seem to be convinced. By the time she lets her walls crack, the camera closes in and delivers one of my favorite scenes of the year.

Happy Old Year seems to be more of a character study than one revolving around the house itself. The camera never leaves our lead as she grapples with sentimentalities and the consequences of her actions despite her. The title seems more of a sarcastic jab at the process of decluttering an internal mess yet its original title, How to Ting, however, translates into “how to dump”.

The act of removing throughout the film is divided through a step by step process that examines more of Jean’s walls and her own history. “Ghost” seems to be an apt description of Jean so far, but Nawapol injects the narrative with the ghosts inside our lead ghost who’s done her own share of hauntings.  

Nawapol’s choice to end the film as it is, brings us to the question: when you’ve exorcised the ghosts in your home, do we call the emptiness it brings as a beginning? Or another haunted house devoid of the very things that make it a home?

Happy Old Year is currently streaming on Netflix.

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