Posting Envelopes – Falasi

Fikri Jermadi pays close attention to Adam Taufiq Suharto’s film.

Anytime I hear the name Suharto, I am reminded of the former Indonesian dictator. There is a similar line I have written before, about the filmmaker, Taufiq Kamal’s, reminding me of Taufik Ismail, a fellow Indonesian, simply because of the name. In contrast to the poet, though, Suharto was a military man who ruled his country for generations, and was well-known for his hardline approach to the nation’s administration.

I wondered how I could twist that into this particular piece. Perhaps we could describe how the Malaysian filmmaker, Adam Taufiq Suharto, is equally dictatorial in his directing style? After all, in the context of the auteur theory, the one consistent strand is of the director being the main point from which all inspiration would evince. He or she is the person in charge, the party host, the catalyst who would motivate the film crew in pushing forward for not only narrative-based purposes, but also with objectives of changing minds and possibly worlds. It’s not the perfect discussion on filmmaking, of course, but it feels like a keen starting point from which we could discuss ‘Falasi’.

The film works primarily (and at least initially) as a crime thriller, with the black-and-white cinematography suggesting a lace of film noir here and there. We have an on-screen film director (Eirsyad Qawiem), tasked with leading a troubled production. What kind of trouble? The lead actress (Imanisa) is found dead, while the lead actor (Sadiq M. Jamil) is missing. The moneymen are threatening to pull their support from the production, unless the director (who is intent on solving the case, and is thus ignoring his [seen as less important] responsibilities for the film) attends the press conference.

That, of course, is a power play, in which the director’s presence would denote him to be under the producer’s thumb. The director (perhaps a direct avatar of Adam himself) is not one such personality, to be pushed around willy nilly against his wishes. In this bigger picture, Adam seeks to reposition (or not; more on this later) the director, the artist, as someone who is of some importance, perhaps the one imbued with the biggest significance of all. This could be seen as a statement on a broken part of the system in Malaysian cinema, in which film directors are rarely see to have much power, if at all; those who do can often be contextualised as the exception, not the rule.

This strong local flavour is what I find very favourable about ‘Falasi’. The off-screen producer, for instance, was adamant that the film is to be continued, even if that means casting a new pair of leading performers: “Do you want my family to eat sand?” It sounds ridiculous, of course, and in Bahasa Malaysia, it has a comedic effect, prompting me to laugh out loud. My mind visualised it as a family sitting around the table and feeding themselves said food using their hands (as many Malaysian Malays eat using their hands), the little grains slipping between the fingers in this Sisyphean task. Such incredulity aside, it tickles the bones precisely because it strikes a chord close to home; hang around plenty of mainstream filmmakers in the country, and you’ll find such exaggeration to be more commonplace than you would think.

In that sense, the hysterical producer is a stand-in, an almost antagonistic presence in Adam’s thesis against mainstream conventions in Malaysian cinema. There is the propensity to configure cinema primarily as a business, looking at black and white numbers. Less accepted is the willingness to make films as art, to challenge the mind and spirit as a means of opposing the ends that is the bottom line. Adam’s focus here is strong and unwavering, as he continues to push the boundaries of cinematic storytelling through his short films.

This is not an accident, but part of a grander plan; though not primarily discussed here, his other films, like ‘Balah Tuah’ and ‘Belas’, display much of the same ideas, pushing against genre filmmaking by reconfiguring his own. That sounds pretty grand for a young filmmaker still taking relatively tentative steps early in his career, but he is not alone in that process. The credits list suggests a relatively-skeleton crew (made up of the likes of Ashrafiqal Aleef and Fazreen Zulkifli), implying a smaller ring of thought process that is easier to control. Yet that impression may not do it justice; a quick Google search reveals that a fair number of them (including his actor, Eirsyad Qawiem) are wont to think critically and share their thoughts online, especially about the cinematic discourse.

Of course, the film’s title suggest that much of this is not quite what we think of it either, that perhaps this whole endeavour of making films and telling stories for a living (and for profit) is little more than a charade. I am particularly taken by Adam’s reworking of a very famous quote at one point in the film, highlighting once again not only the performative aspect of our daily lives, but also his brazen confidence in doing so.

Thus, ‘Falasi’ is made sweeter by the thought that these breaking (or at least bending) of rules are not acts of cinematic vandalism done haphazardly. Neither is it necessarily positioned as simply being a ‘syok sendiri’ production. Instead, it is fairly well-thought out expedition, with a snake of a narrative eating its own tail. Irony, satire and parody (amongst others) all come together, challenging and satisfying both at the same time, precisely because of that interrogation of what (Malaysian) cinema could (and perhaps should) be.

You can watch the film on Viddsee.

Featured image credit: Stefano Stacchini / Unsplash

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