Zeitgeist – Kami

200px-kamithemovieZeitgeist. That is the only word that came to mind as I watched this film. Continuing a series of reviews in the vein of ‘DVDs I bought in Malaysia but only managed to get round to watching it now’ (following on from ‘Budak Kelantan’), ‘Kami’ is a film that I have been somewhat anticipating. For one thing, there’s the impression that it’s something of a coming of age road movie. I haven’t seen one of those for a while, lest one that’s made in Malaysia. With the conditions of our roads, however, I am not particularly surprised that the road movie is something of a rarity in contrast to the rest of its genre brethrens.

Alas, it was not to be.

Money, money, money is very funny in Ali's world.
Money, money, money is very funny in Ali's world.

‘Kami’ is indeed a coming of age story. In some ways, one can also define it as a road movie, since the characters do move around a lot on the KL roads. Nevertheless, that’s as far as the travelling goes, but a coming of age story it is regardless. We follow the lives of five middle-class friends who try to make their way in life and in love. Lynn (Liyana Jasmay) is a Form Five student who makes ends meet by helping out her mother with her business, as well as indulging in writing on the side. Her circle of friends include Ali (Syarul Ezani bin Mohamed Ezzuddeen. Ambik kau!) and Abu (Nas Muammar Zar), who just escaped from a juvenile centre. His is not a happy life, with ongoing problems with his father, and yet he is the cheeriest (and the most boneheaded) of the group. He’s not the only one with problems, as Ali is also coming to terms with the fact that his mother, having separated from his father, is about to get married to another guy.

One person who doesn’t have much problems getting guys is Sofie (Juliana Sophie bt Johari Evans), who in fact is smart enough to get offers to study in universities over many seas. However, she is unknowingly held back by her mother, who, in the wake of a failed engagement, doesn’t want to see her leave. One person who is having much problems in the search for Mr Right is Adii (Ani Zayanah Ibrahim). She goes as far as going on the Internet to look for that one true love, but does not lack for love when it comes to her friends. In fact, you’d think with all of them on the look out for one another, they wouldn’t actually run into so many problems. Alas, since everyone has their own secrets to bury deep down in the hearts, what we do end up with is something that wouldn’t necessarily look out of place in a drama serial.

They didn't know that JAIS is just around the corner...
They didn't know that JAIS is just around the corner...

That it would not look out of place on TV. That’s not actually meant as a knock on the filmmakers’s abilities, mind you. If anything, I think both Effendee Mazlan and Farina Azlina Ishak have managed to come up with a film that will score a home run with their target audience (young lads and lasses who do not know who). In that regard, then, the story was competently told. Watching it, I get the feeling that somehow, the ending won’t be all bad. In fact, it would be quite uplifting in a way. I spent more time trying to figure out whose cuter out of Adii and Sophie compared to whether Ali will actually deck his mother’s boyfriend or not (though I would vote for the former). Though there was little that truly jumped out and shouted “ORIGINAL!!!” in my ear, the sense of familiarity played well in terms of settling me in. It fit in well with what I have come to expect from such a production. The actual style in many aspects of the film (in terms of lighting, plot, etc.) means that it would fit in comfortably as a TV.

Probably helps if I explain that it is actually based on a TV series. 🙂

Getting much closer to the heart of the matter is a repetition of a word I mentioned at the start of this review: zeitgeist. For those not in the know, it basically means the spirit of the times, the mood of the current season, the wind currently blown, etc. For those who do know…well, it still means the same things. Very few of the films that I have seen (and though I have seen a fair amount, and plan to continue along the same veins whenever my schedule doesn’t have “SHOOT” marked down in its boxes) can have a fair shout at representing the current generation, whatever the nation. Many films even fail to aim for this. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with not really aiming for that. After all, we can all aim to make different films for different reasons, but it is precisely this reason that marks ‘Kami’ out from the crowd.

That's not an Afghan hanging on the wall, is it?
That's not an Afghan hanging on the wall, is it?

Scenes of Ali ‘raging’ against his mother’s boyfriend, of Adii’s search for ‘love’, of Lynn’s attempts to keep her past from affecting her present and future, will all score some points with those who can relate, at least on a certain level, to what the characters going through. In that sense, ‘Kami’ did a very good job of mirroring the coming of age stage that I would guess a fair amount of our youngsters go through. In truth, it is not all that dissimilar with the process that other young people in other places go through. Perhaps it is because of the way this experience unfolds in real life, there is little here that truly marks it out differently amongst a lot of the other coming-of-age films. The same would not apply to the Malaysian market, however (certainly not from the films that I have heard about).

If you’re not a part of this reality, however, it probably won’t settle down well with you. Case in point: the language. After watching the DVD, I had lent it to my friend for his own perusal. He came back to me a few days later during our ping-pong match. “I’m sorry, mate,” he started, “but I couldn’t finish it. The way that they speak is…well, it jars with me. I can’t stand how the Bangsar Malays speak.” Initially perplexed, I’ve come to gather that it doesn’t literally mean how the Malay people who live in Bangsar speak. He was referring to the representation of the middle-class youngsters on the screen, and the ‘butchering’ of the language. To me, it wasn’t as big an issue, but perhaps that is a reflection of having heard that kind of talk on a regular basis (I suppose on that basis, the ruling should also apply to the TTDI Malays, and the plethora of Kota/Bukit/Mutiara Damansara Malays as well, amongst others). Neither did he mean it in a negative way; it just wasn’t something that he could get down with.

Begun...the staring contest has.
Begun...the staring contest has.

And it was a feeling that I felt acutely during the various concerts scenes in the film. I couldn’t bloody understand what the hell most of the lyrics being sung were. In fact, I could just about make out that half of it was in Malay. Now, my Malay is not as great as it once were, but still, the lack of an ability to catch the art from amongst the noise turns the whole thing merely into a noisy form of art for me. One that I could not understand, and one that finally makes me empathise with my parents way back when as I tried to explain that Linkin Park is not just “noise.”

So there you have it. A competent and generally enjoyable piece of reflection that will bounce the light squarely between the eyes of its target audience.

With that in mind, I’ll offer another definition of zeitgeist, then.

It probably just means that I’m getting old.

Fikri advocates lengthy ping-pong sessions as a form of creative outlet.”How can I tell the story from the cat’s point of view?” Ping. Pong. “We angle over the cat’s shoulder.” Ping. Pong. “Do cats have shoulders?” Ping. Pong…

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