Shadows and Dust – Psiko: Pencuri Hati

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I saw this film on the last day of its screening run at GSC Midvalley. Unfortunately however, I did not manage to make enough time to sit down and write this review. Funny, that…there are 24 hours in a single day, and if you look at the chronological expressions on this blog, it appears that I had time to do not one but two posts about ‘KL Gangster 2’. Yet I couldn’t find time to do this. I should have done this a long time ago, because ‘Psiko: Pencuri Hati’ is a movie worth creating further content on.

Why? Not just because it is a unique film in the context of Malaysian cinema (there are, interestingly, not that many psychological thrillers made in a more mainstream context), but also because it tells of a good story in a very good way.

This shot got me all excited.
This shot got me all excited.

For example, I often tell my students of how they can use light to tell story. “Not just light to create light, however,” I say, “but how light can also be used to create shadows.” I have to admit that this is no idea of my own, though, and readily credit the cinematography documentary, ‘Cinematographer Style’, as to the origin of this particular train of thought.

I mention that because it is the use of light and shadows in the telling of the story in ‘Psiko: Pencuri Hati’ (henceforth referred to as ‘Psiko’) that is very interesting. Rarely do I come across a film that is even aware of the depth added by the simple contrast of light and shadows, and that is to be noted here.

First things, first, though: the story. ‘Psiko’ tells of the story a man suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder named O. Sidi (Bront Palarae). No, I’m not making up the name of that character, by the way. Inspired by a series of real life events, his latest novel is about a killer who steals hearts…literally. However, reaching that famed writer’s block before the end of the novel, he tries hard to overcome it by researching for the book. Visiting the scene of the latest crime, he becomes ever more compulsive. His friend (Amerul Affendi) decided that as a way of getting him back on track, he should be helped along further by taking a break from all this.

At the same time, we see Wani (Sharifah Amani) and Dr Khai (Syed Hussein) go through the routine of an unhappy marriage. Spending your days reading novels about psychotic killers is probably not the best way to deal with your depression, but that’s what Wani does all the same. Khai tries hard to reach out to her, both emotionally and physically, but tormented by ghosts of her own past, the connection between both husband and wife is tested more and more by the minute.

"So, err...when do you think you'll stop being referred to as Kak Min's favourite actress?"
“So, err…when do you think you’ll stop being referred to as Kak Min’s favourite actress?”

Trying to cure this, Dr Khai decided to take his wife to the same island resort Sidi has retreated to. Of course, they meet, and with his wife taking a keener interest in her apparently favourite author than expected, Khai becomes somewhat threatened by Sidi’s presence and profession, and spends his time trying hard to undermine him. It really is ironic, because, crippled by his disorder, Sidi would be the last person accused of trying to steal anyone’s wife. Yet Khai still feels threatened by this, and what we end up having are two emasculated characters who, threatened by the presence of the other to their respective masculinities, lash out in ways that prove to be more damaging than any could possibly think of.

This leads to the second point of this review. In addition to how light and shadows can used to express feelings and stories, I also try as much as possible to hammer home to my students the idea of dialogue manipulation as a way telling the story. This is not in reference to the idea of expressing everything purely through the vocal delivery of an actor; rather, that meaning can be inferred from the withholding of information or direct answer to a question.

Lo and behold, Khai comes home to have a chat with Wani at the dinner table. He sits down and they start a conversation, and the husband asks a question, and the wife…does not answer. At least, not directly and not in the way the husband expected. If anything, that answer (or lack thereof) tells far more of their relationship through dialogue (or non-dialogue) than through anything else. So that’s two things that I’ve talked about in class that popped up, and I hope that I can screen this film in the faculty sooner rather than later.

That's one way of making sure the bed bugs won't bite.
That’s one way of making sure the bed bugs won’t bite.

That would be important, because I don’t imagine this to be the kind of film to be appreciated by many people. The figures bore some truth to this claim; by the end of its cinematic run, the box office collection stood at little more over RM100,000. It’s a miniscule number by any stretch of the imagination, but even more so when you consider the inclusion of both Bront Palarae and Sharifah Amani, two very well-known and well-regarded performers with good standing within and without the industry.

A more anecdotal evidence is this: during the screening, there weren’t that many people in attendance. That’s fine. This is a fairly niche film that surprisingly lasted beyond the obligatory two weeks at most cinemas, and it was during off-peak hours. However, of those who did turn up, there was a couple seated someway along my row. Nothing wrong with that of course…except that they proceeded to yap their way throughout some of the most important parts of the film. It wasn’t something entirely acceptable to me, but generally speaking it wasn’t that distracting.

However, there came about a point in which they did started to speak as if they are in their own house, and I made a point to make my way across to address to them in low but stern tones that they shouldn’t be speaking so loudly. I generally don’t get that pissed off at people in cinemas, but the content of their conversation was also something that betrayed something about them. ‘Psiko’ being a complex film both in terms of its genre, story and telling, some things were not presented in as straightforward a way as many would like. As such, the couple spent a large amount of their time in the cinema making stupid enquiries such as, “Abang, kenapa dia buat tu?” “Dia buat tu sebab…” Every. Single. Little. Thing.

Dinner can be uncomfortable with your present, future...and past.
Dinner can be uncomfortable with your present, future…and past.

A brief discussion with Hassan Muthalib about this movie was enlightening in many ways. He suggested that the film was making as much of a comment on the Malaysian film audiences as it does on the core content itself. I didn’t see that initially, but that did make me think back about the couple in the cinema, who can, in many ways, serve as a representation of the general Malaysian audience. The ending of the film provides a big clue as to how the film should be read, and how the film (and its makers) treat its audiences. How accurate this representation may be will be subject to further factors to be considered in articles and reviews other than this, but nevertheless, it is something worth considering.

This film will not be appreciated by many for reasons beyond the responsibilities of its makers. Interestingly, I feel that it would have played fairly well at an international film festival such as Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, which does present quite a lot of similarly themed content. Ironically, Nam Ron’s previous film, ‘Jalan Pintas’, was screened at Puchon despite me thinking that it might not quite fit into the profile and image of the festival.

Incidentally, ‘Jalan Pintas’ itself was released some time ago. I purchased it at Arts for Grabs recently, along with Hassan Muthalibs’ ‘Malaysian Cinema in a Bottle’ book.

Now, for the time to read and watch both…

Fikri didn’t have a Subway sandwich after this film.

Featured image credit: Bluenote

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