For All Time, Always? – Posterity

Adi Iskandar shares his thoughts on Audrie Yeo’s latest film.

In watching ‘Posterity’, the first thing that jumps to mind is how different this film is to the previous Audrie Yeo effort I saw, which is ‘Stones of Justice’. Admittedly, that was a number of years ago, back in 2016; part of a trilogy by Seeing Eye Films, it was a graphic film, living up to its advice for viewer discretion.

In contrast, ‘Posterity’ does not quite have the same level of on-screen violence (even if it does feature a decapitated animal). However, there is a greater focus on deep-seated problems that is no less uncomfortable, especially in its discussion of issues related to legacy, tradition and hierarchy.

Ah Ger (Isabel Alessandrea Jalleh) is a young girl who finds the head of a bird. In spite of its missing body, she decides it remains important for a proper funeral to take place. There is an admirable empathy emphasised here, one which we’ll discuss in greater detail later on.

Her action catalyses her late grandmother (Pearlly Chua) into the proceedings. Further twisting these events is the fact that it is not really her grandmother at all, but rather, the spirit of the bird itself; a clue to this lies in the colour of her eyes. This grandmother/bird hybrid then implores Ah Ger to search for and then take care of her offspring, unborn in its egg.

In doing so, she finds an obstacle in her mother (Christina Lim), unsupportive of her actions. This is where the film comes into its own, interacting as it does with the Chinese proverb: “A tree planted by the ancestors, provides shade for the next generation. A tree cut down by the ancestors, brings misfortune for the next generation.”

That sums up ‘Posterity’ and Audrie’s critical perspective on the aforementioned issues. For instance, the idea of respect as embedded within such hierarchies is represented through various forms of memorial, like photographs of the grandmother in the house. Though they ensure her presence for posterity, there is also a grey area introduced into a fairly strict black and white discourse.

In prominently highlighting the past casting a watchful gaze on subsequent generations, it also brings a weight of expectation not entirely comfortable with many. This perhaps explains the film’s 4:3 aspect ratio, creating a sense of minor claustrophobia similar to that felt in Bebbra Mailin’s ‘Ninavau’. Heavy is the burden of the past, and that baggage should perhaps be the context to consider Ah Ger’s mother’s reactions.

Having said that, such reasoning does not excuse her actions, and another context I am thinking of, funnily enough, is that of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference. Held not too long prior to watching the film, its proceedings accentuated the sense of futility in relying on elderly leaders for salvation.

In failing to create binding agreements even when the fate of the world is at stake, their kicking of cans down dead ends makes me feel that the younger generation, often derided by those in power, are no longer important only for the future, but also the present. There is an intergenerational tension there which is not constructive for all, especially Mother Earth.

This tension is also present between and beyond the mothers in ‘Posterity’. The key to this is Isabel, whose performance builds nicely on her appearance in Edmund Yeo’s ‘Malu’. Pearlly Chua also delivers understated performance as the grandmother, with her gaze acting at key moments making up for a lack of actual physical dynamism.

I suspect such reserve comes from the director herself, evidence of a range that is admirable; in addition to ‘Stones of Justice’, she also directed ‘Gigi’, a Louisa Chong tragicomedy, which gained attention at the BMW Shorties a few years ago. She has subsequently camped herself in Amanda Nell Eu’s merry band of filmmakers (Amanda returns the favour her as the film’s producer).

That is a good thing, because as good as her previous films may be, there is a certain weight to ‘Posterity’, making it a serious film worth watching. The film’s meditative style may well be a little more understated, but it does not mean that its discussion of tradition and modernity is any less substantial in terms of their critical significance.

‘Posterity’ was screened at the 16th Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival. We touched on ‘Gigi’ in our whirlwind review of the 2015 BMW Shorties films.

Featured image credit: Photo Everywhere

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