Middle Class Zeitgeist – Relationship Status

This was actually the purview of a friend who had seen the film and wanted to write a review of it, so I had decided to leave it to her to get it sorted out. Unfortunately, things and life, like everything else, got in the way, and in the end it didn’t quite work out, so I’m writing this one instead.

I wish I had written it earlier, to be honest, but then again, upon further reflection, it might have been a blessing in disguise. At the screening, I had bumped into another filmmaker I know, and as it turns out, our seats are fairly close to each other. As much as I enjoy watching films, it is something I’d rather do, I realise, with non-industry people. Quite frankly, on many levels, many of us think we’re better than the average folk. We have an understanding of what it takes to make a film, and to that end, that knowledge and experience informs our own film watching experience. Most films do not have us as the target audience, and therefore the film’s flaws and inconsistencies are a little more exposed than they would have been otherwise. It is different to saying that we know how to make a film better (we don’t), but we are better positioned at making educated guesses.

This is not a perfect film. No film is, of course, I add in some haste, and this film’s technical aspects could be further improved upon. A rare thing, for me to start off on a negative note at the beginning of a review, but I want to briefly cover that before I move on to the other things.

Red: Passion? Anger? Love? Err…Ferrari?

Because the other things were excellent.

The story follows…well, a bunch of people. The nominal main characters are Dave (Gavin Yap) and Anna (Davina Goh), two friends who have some benefits. Like everyone else, things start to develop, at least on Dave’s part, but she refuses to change her relationships status both in real life and on Facebook. Someone else who has a problem doing so is Ramli (Baki Zainal), who doesn’t actually have a Facebook account. His wife Hawa (Ruzana Ibrahim) does, and so does her friend Tricia (Daphne Iking). Tricia, however, uses it for different purposes; she had just divorced her husband Jason (Tony Eusoff), and is on the prowl for…well, men. Apparently, Jason has been cheating on her, which is always a good excuse to change your own relationship status.

Moving beyond all that sex, Nina (Shuba Jay) loves Facebook and social media in general, because…well, just because. Interesting, then, that she dates (Alfred Loh), who is NOT into Facebook. He doesn’t quite get it in the same way that she does, but then again, opposites attract. Moving to the opposite end, Selena (Susan Lankester) deals with the fact that her husband does get Facebook, and lives through it…until his death. Being left with artefacts of his existence made things difficult for her. Her son Kevin (Will Quah) tries to help her through this ordeal, but dealing with the existence of someones artefacts after they’re left is an issue that deserves a deeper exploration. What we are given, however, is a masterclass, something which Eugene (Benji Lim) probably should have gone through before proposing to his girlfriend May (Amanda Ang). His family, represented largely by his sister (Adeline One) and physicalised briefly by his father (Pete Teo) does not believe she fits into the family as well as Eugene might have done.

And so it goes, on and on until they all get so intertwined its impossible to truly extricate themselves from their respective situations. Not unlike life itself.

For once, he didn’t really break out his Mandarin.

First of, to clear up a minor misunderstanding. The film’s title and promotional efforts (down to the font and colour used) may make you think that this film is related to Facebook. Indeed, many of my own friends even referred to it as the Malaysian ‘The Social Network’. It is an unfortunate thing, not only because both films deserve to stand on their own two feet, but they are also very different and similar at the same time. ‘The Social Network’ was about the people who did come up with Facebook, while ‘Relationship Status’ looked at how social networks affected our lives, so they’re different there.

However, they also looked at how the relationships did change as a result of that. While ‘The Social Network’ was more micro in its approach, this movie looked at relationships (and their statuses) on a more holistic level. Quite frankly, the existence of Facebook takes a back seat to the exploration of relationships between the different characters. You could argue that the actual social network discussed and used in this film could possibly have been changed with, say, Friendster (eww – ed.).

I wouldn’t want to change the network of the cast for the world, though. What a wonderful group of actors and characters gathered for this purpose. Every once in a while, you do get a film that does attempt to shove everyone into a screen and give them pretty much the same amount of time to do their stuff. Unfortunately, what we end up getting is a selection of characters who don’t quite gel or grow as much as they could. I fear making it sound like an easy thing to do, for it is not; balancing character developments for three or four characters is already quite difficult enough. What Khai has done here is to ensure that pretty much everyone get their fair share of the screen, and that they have a fighting chance of being remembered long after the film has finished.

The happy drug obviously didn’t quite extend to Gavin’s mood…

Case in point: me. No, I’m not a character in the film, but I do remember many of the film’s characters very well. The film was screened some months ago, and I still remember Ruzana Ibrahim’s scenes. In fact, I think I can almost swear that I know all of her scenes: the scenes with her husband, with her friend, when she discovers things that she probably wouldn’t want to dicover (but then there would be no character development, then, would there?), and the feelings that come after the fact. Her losing control in her bedroom (not in that way, though) was particularly memorable. The same goes for the characters of Tony Eusoff and Susan Lankester. Susan Lankester probably got all of her scenes done within two to three days, but they were beautiful scenes, both in terms of the composition and also the externalising of emotions. In many of her key moments, she merely acted against a picture or a computer monitor, but by the end, I felt something for her husband, a character who never did appear in the flesh on screen. Perhaps the only characters who could have done with a bit more meat to their bone were Baki Zainal’s and Pete Teo’s, but theirs were roles already negligible to begin with; Baki Zainal has a secret that changes our perceptions about him to a more negative level, while I suspect Pete’s schedule for the entire film read something like this:

9.00 Call time
9:30 Slap
9:40 Wrap

Of course, it wasn’t quite like that (I think). I do feel that that was how it was run and handled, because this is yet another hardcore low-budget effort from Khai. I don’t think the actors got much in return for their efforts in terms of financial gains, but I do believe that actually required a monumental effort from the side of the filmmakers to organise and make sure everything run to plan. And when you make films, not everything goes according to plan.

Daphne is l-Iking what she is hearing.

It was because of that that I felt the technical aspects of the film was slightly lacking in certain areas. I’m sure that, given the time and money, Khai probably would have preferred to spend a bit more on the sound recording and design. The lighting wasn’t lacking, though it could have been more interesting in certain scenes, but because this (I suspect) is the kind of film that needed to be done at breakneck speed, I felt that Khai decided to concentrate on pulling out the best he could out of the performers. That emphasis on the characters have paid off handsomely, and while this films faces distribution hurdles to overcome, I do believe that in the long run, it will pay off ultimately. Everyone involved in this production will have had their careers advanced significantly because of it, and Khai himself, having been publicly involved in the promotion of this film, have also blazed a path for other filmmakers: they’ll do well to learn from his experiences as to how to get this film made. It is a testament to the independent spirit that lights the way; in thirty years time, when researchers and anthropologists wish to analyse the lives of Taman Tunians, Bangsarians and Mont Kiarans (though that might be a little too ‘upper’), it is this film they’ll be referring to, and not…err, ‘Adnan Sempit 2’ (which also subtly deals with issues of class).

Like I said, this is not a perfect film (the voice over narration in one part was somewhat condescending, I felt), but the interesting execution of a fairly simple idea made this film worth watching and spreading.

The filmmaker I accidentally saw the film with registered a more lukewarm response, and I wonder whether that was coloured by some of the cons I have previously mentioned.

Ah well. Who cares, it’s not his blog.

Fikri doesn’t flaunt the statuses of his relationships. Might make people jealous, haha.

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2 thoughts on “Middle Class Zeitgeist – Relationship Status

    1. The DVD will be ready for release by some time this month, if I am not mistaken. I don’t know where it will be available, exactly, but if its not in the Speedy-like shops, then it’ll be available by contacting the filmmakers directly. His contact details are available on http://www.khairilmbahar.com.

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