Tuesday, January 30, 2007

S’kali (Together) – Malaysia 2006


Here are just a few sentences about a film that you have likely never heard of and likely will never get an opportunity to see. So why bother you might ask? Simply as an occasional reminder that beneath the radar of the big films and the big hype is a world of small personal films that are being made simply for the love of the process. It is also a reminder that there are intriguing independent film stirrings taking place around South East Asia that so few of us get a glimpse of – but in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam many young filmmakers are telling stories that mean something to them. One can’t get much younger in fact than the director of this film – a 23 year old Indian from Malaysia by the name of Arivind Abraham.

The film has all the faults that one might expect in a film debut from such a young person and made on little more than a phantom budget and a prayer – stilted at times, sluggish at others, overly earnest – but beneath the lack of fancy visuals and non-existent sets (much of the film takes place in people’s cramped bedrooms or in a mamak (very basic casual eatery) is a heartfelt story of friends that ultimately hits its target.

It is a cross-cultural tale that takes place in Kuala Lumpur and is clearly very influenced by Yasmin Ahmad’s wonderful Sepet – a fact that the director doesn’t attempt to hide as he refers to the film a few times and includes a terrific out of the blue cameo from the director. It is clear that the five young middle class people who gather almost daily at the mamak to talk about their lives have been good friends for a long time, but they have all reached that age where life making adult decisions need to be made. They are an ethnically and gender wise cross-section of Malaysian society – Ravin (Jayaram Nagaraj), an Indian want to be film director (which makes one wonder how much of this film is autobiographical), Sze Huey (Davina Goh), a young female Chinese journalist with hidden feelings for Ravin, Tahmina (the very lovely Angeline Rose), emotionally troubled by her parents breakup, Bahir (Zimy Rosan) who is trying to make it in the local music scene and has hidden feelings for Tahmina and finally Tzao (Derek Ong) ,who is frustrated and angry with his inability to get into a university in Malaysia because of the structured preference given to Malays over other ethnic groups.

This set up inevitably leads to racially taboo relations, rancor and tragedy as social forces begin to break the seams of these long held friendships. It all plays out a bit awkwardly and perhaps too obviously, but it still manages to touch you with its message of the enduring bonds of those you grew up with. In an odd scene – whether intended to be fantasy or not I am not sure – Ravin bumps into Yasmin on a rooftop on New Year’s Eve and tells her of his difficulties in writing a script. Her advice to him is simple – write about your true feelings and everything else will fall into place. And it is clear that the director has tried to follow her advice in this film.

Source of viewing: Screener

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