KLIFFhanger – Kuala Lumpur International Film Festival 2008

kliff07-01Can you believe it? Another year has gone past and before you know it, the 2nd edition of the Kuala Lumpur International Film Festival (cleverly shortened to KLIFF) is upon us. I know that it’s on some time at the end of the year, but the actual festival kinda crept up on my like a creepy crawly I didn’t know about hanging down from its almost-invisible web on the bottom of my roommate’s top bunk bed.

Did that make sense?

But that’s not a bad thing. At least it wasn’t one of the creepy crawly bugs that was all over one of the characters from ‘A Scanner Darkly’, which I saw recently. Now that is a scary scene; I felt an inclination to stop it and go for a quick shower quicker than a stone drop off the edge of the KLIFF (see what I did there? :)).

Speaking of KLIFF, this year, the 2nd edition of the film festival, attempts to continue where it left off last year. For some, that’s not necessarily a good thing. I have to admit, picking ‘Transformers’ as a winner may not be the smartest move in terms of building a film festival, but this article will not look at the pros and cons of films festivals, let alone Malaysian ones. Though I have some opinions that I believe is informed enough to be constructive, this is not the piece that criticises past editions, but one that looks forward. Having a film festival is as good a start as any, and I hope that the festival will grow into something substantial not just in Malaysia, but also in the region.

Similar to the ones conducted for Pusan and Cannes, in this post, I will canvass a list of ten films that have caught all four of my eyes, and despite the relatively short list, the decision remains as difficult as ever. I have to note, however, the tendency to pick films that tells of multiple, intertwining storylines. Did the programmer gorge himself on Inarittu films the night before the selection?

This post, then, only discriminates against films I’ve banged about elsewhere. It includes ‘Wayang’. I’ve nothing against it, it’s just…I’m sick of beating that drumagain.

The ferris wheel ride was a bit slow.

10 + 4 Iran

One of the more interestingly-titled films of recent times, this film is actually a sequel to a previous film, simply called ‘Ten’. Even more actually, if that is grammatically sound (but who cares if it isn’t) is that it’s not really structured as a work of fiction. If anything, it seems to be more of a documentary than a feature film. The director, Mania Akbari, is also the leading actress in this film, and it appears that she is portraying her own character. Suffering from cancer, she is driving a car while conversing with her son and sister, amongst others. As the journey progresses, so does the cancer. “This film reflects my inner experience,” said the director. “It is vitally important to expose deep inner truths no matter how difficult and painful they are. 10 + 4 depicts a part of these realiies. What is difficult and can’t be said or heard will be seen and this will make healing possible. We have to allow the things that must die within us to die; and allow what has to come to life again or has stayed alive to be. If we do not resist inner death, then real death will appear in all its strength.”

My Time Will Come Ecuador

Jumping from the Middle East to South America, ‘My Time Will Come’ sounds suspiciously like another rehash of Inarittu films. Not that it is a bad thing, mind you. I thoroughly welcome such efforts, and it’s not everyday that we get the chance to see an Ecuadorian movie in Asia, let alone Malaysian. The film follows the lives of a medical examiner, his mother, brother, assistant, and a taxi driver. “God gives birth to them and Quito gathers them. Only death make them equal.” Putting aside the strangeness of that particular sentence, it nevertheless has a certain hook about it that grabs my attention more the more I think about it. We can probably guess how it would all end. It’s also good for the film to get out and about outside of Latin-heavy areas and festivals, as initial searches on Google would reveal.

Antique war helmets are no longer popular.

Goodbye Life Iran

Coming back to Iran (that seems to be another of the organisers favourites). And not unlike the previous one, this film also death with the issue of death. Set during the years of the war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, Maryam wants to break from her husband and divorce him. Going further than that, she wants to commit a total break from society and life altogether by committing suicide. Of course, that’s not quite the best way to leave this world, and so she decides to go out with all guns blazing…and die as a war reporter. Evidently, the director, Ensieh Shah-Hosseini fell back into her own journalistic background to come up with this interesting-sounding gem. “Instead of a blustering, heroic heroine coming face to face with tragedy,” writes a Variety review, “first-time director Ensieh Shah-Hosseini empathizes with a confused, scared young protagonist whose chief goal is to hightail it back to Tehran.”

Divisionz (2008) South Africa/Uganda

Yes! That’s Us. That, believe it or not, is the name of the director in question of the film ‘Divisionz’. Described as a collection of visual artists, I am intrigued more by the means rather than by the ends of the film. I am not particularly attracted to the story itself (four youths who come together from all over Uganda and end up making music together). That is a nice enough plot line, but it would have struck me as a little too Disney. The brains (and I do mean brains) behind the operations are far more interesting to me. It is difficult enough to direct a film by oneself, but with other people? Not impossible, but certainly no walk in the park either, from past experience. Nevertheless, they have gained some measure of success in the past with their previous endeavours, so it’s not as if they don’t know what they’re doing. With the group having also been involved in making music videos and short films, I think we can be in for a quick-cutting colourful time.

“You said it’s open mic, but the mic’s not opening at all!”

Cape No. 7 (2008) Taiwan

I’m well in the mood for a Taiwanese film these days. ‘Parking’ parked a very sweet spot in my mouth, and previous efforts haven’t been bad either; despite the relative size of their country, films from Taiwan tends to be hits rather than misses, for some reason. Judging from the storyline here, it appears that the creative well is far from running dry. Seven residents from a small town are brought together to form a musical band, to herald the arrival of a Japanese singer. In the mean time, Aga, who had previously failed to become a singer in Taipei, ends up working at the post office. One day, receiving a package for an address that no longer exists, he breaks from the universal rule of ‘never open another person’s mail’, and discovers love letters written over the period of half a century (sounds like a really long time, isn’t it?). Slowly but surely, his own love story mirrors that of the love letter. Will it also have the same end?

Hassan and Morcos Egypt

Religion is one of my pet subjects. It doesn’t mean that I know a lot about it, but it is something that fascinates me both on a spiritual, intellectual and social plane, amongst others. Any films that tries to take a look at religions, then, already has something of a head start in gaining my interest. Even better, if they feature multiple religions, tracing the strands of similarities that so many people have forgotten. In ‘Hassan and Morcos’, we would be treated to an interesting sounding comedy: that of the bridge between Islam and Christianity. A priest and an imam in Egypt, surviving assassination attempts, are given different identities to ensure their safety – by pretending to be of different religions. I can see the potential not only for a social comedy, but also for some form of religious controversy in some quarters in Malaysia. Another attraction is the billing of the Arab world’s “greatest ever film star” (Omar Sharif) and “biggest box office draw” (Adel Imam). Apparently the former worked in Hollywood or something like that. 🙂

Kinta Malaysia

Getting to the first of the Malaysian films, this has actually been a very long time coming. I heard of this movie a couple of years back, and thought that it sounded like a cool, ambitious project. Nothing much came out of that, until now. So imagine my surprise as I realised that this film was selected for its Malaysian premiere at KLIFF this year. Billed as Malaysia’s first martial arts film, the story tells of Zheng Hong and his oppression of struggling miners. Enter, stage left, of the bombastically-named Tiger, Ace and Blaze. Fighting for their freedom, they should not be mistaken for the characters from the first ‘Streets of Rage’ video game way back when on the Sega Megadrive. The action, however, may prove to be similar; with a bare-sounding storyline, it seems as if plenty of stock and hopes have been placed on the fighting scenes themselves. It’s from CL Hor, the helmer of ‘3rd Generation’. I hope that, for the sake of having more bigger-budget Malaysian-Chinese films, they are placed well.

The Baby Doll Night Egypt

Returning to Egypt, the film ‘The Baby Doll Night’ is billed as a tragic comedy. Having cast my eyes on the synopsis, however, I’m willing to bet that perhaps there will be heavier leanings towards the ‘tragic’ side of things. After spending time in America getting treatment for his impotence, Houssam returns home to Cairo, hoping to conceive a child with his wife. However, as he and his group of business look for a hotel room in Cairo, they bumble along from one comedic episode to another. “But where is the tragic part,” you might wonder. Well, wonder no more: the film uses flashbacks to tell the background of each of the members of the group, and how they are connected through the events of September 11, the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, and the Israel-Palestine conflict. By themselves, they’re meaty enough subjects for any one film to cover. Put together, however small their respective roles maybe, and we may well have a film that is as ‘explosive’ as it is ‘comedic’.

The new garderner struck her as a bit strange.

Pensil Malaysia

There was something of an anomaly on the official festival page for the film ‘Pensil’. Next to ‘Name of Title in English’, I still find the word ‘Pensil’ pencilled in next to it. Then again, this may not be a mistake, but a deliberate treatment on the part of its makers. The film takes a look at disabled Indian orphan (played here by the director himself), and how he is mistreated by his step-mother and -aunt. Despite these difficult, Cinderella-like circumstances, he is still a man to be reckoned with, in some ways; maintaining a positive outlook, he works to earn money, selling keropok, and is as devout a Muslim as they come. The title comes from the significance of his own pencil, a prized possession that he uses to express himself. I like the idea of this film, and I like what I have heard of the film thus far. Peppered with a host of relatively-known actors (well, known by me, at least) like Khatijah Tan and Jalil Hamid, I am very keen to check this out.

And the Jalil Hamid link? My family and I used to play the tape all the time when I was so much younger. Absolute classic. 🙂

On The Wings of Dreams Bangladesh

How many of you have seen Bangladeshi movies recently? OK, let’s put it another way: how many of you have seen Bangladeshi movies? I will wager that many of you haven’t, on both accounts. But don’t feel lonely; I would have sheepishly raised my own hands in admission as well. Truth be told, beyond supplying Malaysia with a fair amount of foreign workers, I am not very aware of the going-ons inside the country. The same obviously applies to their film industry as well, and to this particular film. Fazlu (close enough to remind me of my brother, Fazly) finds a pair of trousers brought in from outside of the country. He and his family discover notes of foreign money inside the pocket. Thinking that it might be worth more than a few bob, they want to exchange them into their own currency, but not knowing much about exchanging money, they go to another part of the city to try to change the money. It is on this journey that they start to dream, and dream big: thinking that the money is of great value, their hopes and dreams would eventually lead to changes in their lives.

In noticing the films selected for this festival, one can’t help but also wonder about the number of film screenings. With the limited number of days, cinemas and screens available for such an endeavour, I understand that it may have been a tough job for the organisers to juggle. In short, two dedicated screening halls at GSC Pavillion and Midvalley over a period of five days doesn’t really give much room for the organisers to play around with. So if you miss ‘Captain Abu Raed’ on Wednesday afternoon, you won’t have another chance to watch it.

Far more importantly, I can’t helped but notice the gap left by the lack of other, quality local films. The absence of the likes of ‘Muallaf’ and lauded independent films like ‘The Elephant and The Sea’ and Azhar’s film would have given the festival a bit more ‘oomph’. ‘Muallaf’, especially, would have been a nice Malaysian premiere to open/close the festival, I think. Whatever the reason(s) may be, it remains an interesting thought for me to sink my teeth into.

Here’s to a smooth-running of the festival.

Fikri thinks that they should also include a retrospective of P. Ramlee. Imagine…watching the classics on the big screen. The festival will be held from 26th to 30th November 2008 (ignore the promos that puts the 29th as its final day). The official site can be found here, which is also where you’ll find the all-important screening schedule.

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