Fikri Jermadi is back to wrap up his thoughts on the BMW Shorties finalists for 2015.
From ‘Fish’ to a film about a fish. ‘Return’, a one-man show by Sean Kook (he takes up the majority of the primary roles behind the camera), is a visually rich film. It tells the story of a maid who communicate with a fish. She releases it into the sea/lake, but then suffers certain mysterious consequences that suggest her fate and the fish’s may not be all that different. It’s a fairly ambitious effort, one that certainly requires you to put on your thinking cap. From a narrative standpoint, it may have been a little too ambitious, and the narrative beats may well lose the audience halfway through. Having said that, it is carried through by the performance as well as the visuals. Tutik Indayani, who played the maid, seems like a natural, while the images are not entirely alien in wedding video. Far from being a derogatory comment, the width and depth of the shots, sometimes with the maid as just a small element of the mise en scene, suggests someone who knows what they’re doing.
Someone who definitely knows what she is doing is Louisa Chong. Recently someone asked me who the Christine Hakim (grand old dame of Indonesian cinema) of Malaysia is. A number of names popped into mind, including Louisa (though what I remember of her stems largely from television shows). Nevertheless, it’s pleasant to see her pop up here as a beauty queen who tries hard to relive the glory days. Her character Gigi is concerned with her gigi (teeth),
And while the superficial chase for stardom here may be… well, superficial, it does serve as something of a reflection of what many women face: that only the so-called young and beautiful are likely to attain success. It offers a deeper reading lacking from a number of the other finalists here. “Shit happens,” says another character played by Megat Sharizal in near-show-stealing effort, “that’s life.” The film plays well as tragicomedy of sorts, which is always a pleasant presence in the sea of serious stories.
They certainly don’t come that much more serious than the ominously titled ‘Cycle of Violence’. The director, Caston J Chua, appears to have graduated from the late Yasmin Ahmad school of filmmaking, with a single shot scene telling the ups and downs of an argument between a husband and wife. Energy, therefore, comes from the actors and their physical movement. It may seem simple, but I suspect much time and energy were spent figuring out not only the mise en scene and mise en shot, but also the story beats and character development. Though the husband (Isaac Hor) inspires much fear, the power play shifts back and forth between him and the wife (Paige Chan). The change in lighting and emphasis on location (watch the film and you’ll see what I mean) slowly reveal the traumatic experience this whole affair is. It makes for a film that’s very difficult to watch in parts, but you also can’t take your eye off it for a second.
The former definitely applied to ‘Zuan’. Directed by Vance Choong, the story starts out weird, with little information given beyond some basic points detailing an addiction. Eventually, things come to light, and we better understand why such an addiction may not only exist, but become necessary. Whether we agree is probably another story, and while I have a tendency of cutting short films plenty of slack, the morality of the ending itself leaves much to be desired along my personal tastes. Having said that, this is a stylish film, with the sort of framing that would not look totally out of place in a Wes Anderson film.
Something that was a very pleasant surprise indeed was ‘The Return’. Out of all of the films presented here, ‘The Return’ probably contains the most cinematic elements of many of them. It’s difficult to rank them as such, of course, but the fact remains that this film could easily be adapted into a bigger, longer-length film. The director, Keshvan Sugumaran, is adept at telling stories dramatically, which only heightens the tension in this story of a man who must choose between blissful ignorance and doing the right thing. Through minor plot points, it establishes character very well, and the plotting itself was simply superb. It does a very effective job of raising the adrenaline, and the film’s snappy editing also helps to create an impact at certain parts of the story. If they had more money to smooth the rough edges, this could have been an absolute barnstormer, but as it stands, it simply has to make do with being the film that had me on the edge of my seat the most.
A special mention had to be given to ‘Dermaga’, the short film directed by Aliff Ihsan Rahman. The film was initially nominated, but it became disqualified due to its submission (and success) at the recent Malaysian Digital Film Awards. Though I understand the rules to be the rules, I also believe that this poetic short film would have given many of the films here a proper run for their money. The story of an old man who moves in with his daughter is quite touching and artistic to behold. In terms of feel, it’s not entirely different from Ernest Chong’s ‘Mama’, a finalist from last year’s BMW Shorties. Nevertheless, this film tells a heartfelt story in an artistic and visual way; while it may be disqualified here, it has strong potential in many festivals in Malaysia and beyond.
This is our 400th post! You can find out who won here and watch the films here. Click here for part one. We previously wrote about the 2009 (!) finalists, and interviewed previous finalists Karthik Shamalan, Edmund Yeo and Mugunthan Loganathan.
Featured image credit: BMW Shorties