Familial conflicts in films have lasted a long time. It’s like love and romance; these are the two topics that won’t go out of fashion. It’s always nice to add a little fraternal spice into the mix. I suspect it was something that made a film like ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Thor’ slightly more interesting than it would have been otherwise.
For the most part, though, these relationships tend to be somewhat predictable. Much like the ubiquital love story, when it comes to something as done, perhaps even overdone as this, there is little room left for originality.
Thank God, then, for ‘Songlap’.
Truth be told, I wasn’t entirely sure about what the word songlap itself actually meant. I suppose being disconnected from the sphere of Malayism does come back to bite you in the ass every once in a while, and upon further reflection, I realise that this might have impacted my understanding of this film on a more complete level. It is a minor caveat, but it is one that should be considered in reading this review.
Am (Shaheizy Sam) and Ad (Syafie Naswip) are two brothers who are deep into a baby-selling syndicate. Theirs is a simple job, serving as mere intermediaries between the mother and the Mama, and the syndicate and eventual happy couple who gets to go home with the baby. From the start, we see Ad being somewhat uncomfortable with the proceedings. Am, however, has a more practical approach, look at the world with a more pragmatic view.
Things gets complicated when Hawa (Sara Ali), the sister of a friend, gets pregnant and becomes a potential supplier, so to speak. A budding feeling is hinted at by Ad and Hawa, but is somewhat wisely never truly explored. What is explored is Ad’s tendency to visit a mature prostitute; in some of the more intriguing scenes I have seen in a while, Ad’s intentions is for nothing more than just to speak to her. Theirs are scenes I could not take my eye off for all the right reasons. At the same time, Ad has his own personal dreams of being a breakdancer. He practices and enters competitions, but inevitably he would be forced to make certain choices.
I am drawn to the names given to the characters. There is a clear inference here to Adam (the combination of the boy’s names) and Eve (the traditional Hebrew pronunciation of Eve is Hawa). Thus, there must be a strong connection somehow. Was the story Biblical in some way? Hawa didn’t speak much throughout the film either. Is there something in that? I’m not entirely sure. I’m certain a second screening will reveal more, but I’ll leave that for you to consider.
All in all, I was quite interested in the continuing development of Syafie Naswip. I am encouraged by the courage he has displayed in the selection of his roles thus far, and I believe that his approach allows him to broach different areas most actors probably wouldn’t have done. A similar praise should be addressed to Shaheizy Sam as well. I admit to not being a particular fan of his actual work, but I hugely respect his great volume of recent works. ‘Songlap’ is the 11th film in the middle of a 14-film run released over three years. It doesn’t seem like he is slowing down for a moment. He has stated in interviews that he’s interesting in striking the iron while it’s hot, but I do wonder about his longevity. Feature filmmaking, be it in front of the camera or behind, is not the ideal lifestyle to be sustained over a small period of time. On that level, kudos to him, but take a break every once in a while, eh Sam?
Beyond that, I was interested to note the very strong DSLR aesthetic throughout the film. From the colour grading to the lighting, this film seems like a longer Youtube video migrated from the Internet. This, of course, is a very rough generalisation, but essentially there are several different kinds of look. One is the film look, born out of films being made on…well, film. Secondly, the TV look has also come to the fore. In short, you get less creative license with the look and lighting, but the upside is that everything is brightly lit, coolly so, and you get to see everything.
Thirdly, we have what I could term (as above) a DSLR aesthetic. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it is not necessarily the look that many people have tried to achieve when it comes to films released in the cinema. If anything, even people who shot on DSLRs aim for a film look with additional filters added in post-production and stuff.
There’s no attempt to denigrate either set of aesthetics, for they all have their pros and cons, but essentially, certain looks could have served certain films better. For example, I just saw a film called ‘Trust’, an excellent little film directed by David Schwimmer. The story is a very good, very well developed with intriguing characters, but in my opinion, it was shot like it was meant to be screened on TV. Perhaps a more filmic treatment of the visuals would have given the film the visual gravity needed to make things seem a little more…serious (and the subject mater of the film is certainly a serious one).
In short, you have different sorts of looks being achieved in a number of different ways. ‘Songlap’, however, is a film made with a DSLR look intended in mind. It does not try to go beyond what it already is. It is, in that sense, a very conscious film, one that is aware of its abilities and limits. It knows what it can do, and what it did was done very well.
This, then, is the little movie that can. I suspect the method of working is slightly different compared to other films being made out there, but ultimately, it is a good, strong story well-told. The ability to infuse so much meaning into a bus ticket is a lesson others would do well to learn. There is a strong visual language at play here, one that means those who don’t understand Malay will still be able to understand the story.
All in all, a good little film that knows its limits and doesn’t do much going beyond it. Which is perfectly fine. Effendee Mazlan dan Fariza Azlina Isahak took a similar approach to their previous film, ‘Kami’, and it is an approach many could take heed and heart from.
Oh, and songlap means “taking everything”. Or something to that effect.
Fikri was entertained by this forum thread about what songlap could mean: “song = a piece of music. lap = a racing event that complete a cycle equals to a lap. songlap = racing music that never stops.” Effendee Mazlan was in a recording of the Thoughts on Films podcast.
Featured image credit: Tajas Media