From Asia, on Important Topics

in 15th Singapore International Film Festival

by Radovan Holub

There were two films in the final discussions of the FIPRESCI-NETPAC jury at the Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF). They were August Sun by director Prasanna Vithanage from Sri Lanka and the Japanese film Vibrator by Ryuichi Hiroki. The latter was finally picked up by the main jury (God bless) and won the Special Jury Prize and a Best Actress Award in the Silver Screen (Main Competition) category. For the FIPRESCI/NETPAC members, it was to select between a politically important film and a “feel-good” film. After much debate, we decided for the film from Sri Lanka. Why? This film, as Ron Holloway underlined, was overseen at the Montreal Film Festival last year. It is a moving film on an important subject matter: two Muslims, father and son, have to run from the part of the country controlled by the rebel organization Tamil Tigers. The father closes his shop and 11-year old Arafath takes his pet stray dog to accompany them on this unexpected journey. There are two more plot lines in this film: a young woman in the capital city of Colombo goes in search of her husband, fighting in the civil war in the country and now missing. And soldier Duminda arrives in the sacred town of Anuradhapura and discovers his sister working in the brothels there. It is basically a film about everyday people who have to survive in a volatile political atmosphere. Vithanage consequently conveys all the societal contradictions that arose during the state conflict – Tamils pushed out by Tamils and in his previous films, the Sinhalese oppression of Tamils. August Sun is remarkable and particularly deserves attention now, in the current global political climate.

Not accidentally, among the rich section of Asian Films, SIFF had intended to show the Indian documentary Final Solution by Rakesh Sharma, but this was banned by the Board of Film Censors (Singapore) due to its sensitive religious-political subject matter. This film was discovered by the International Forum of Young Cinema at the Berlin Film Festival 2004. It uncompromisingly describes the brutal aftermath of the violence between Hindus and Muslims in India that followed the death of Hindus in Godhra in February, 2002 and led to victimization of Muslims as well as a wave of propaganda against them.

Other socially important films in the Silver Screen and mainly in the Asian Section are worthy of attention. Swing My Swing High, My Darling by U-Wei bin Haji Saari from Malaysia together with the The Beautiful Washing Machine (a very good film) by James Lee and Paloh by Adman Salleh are a proof of the vividness of Malaysian cinema nowadays. The Thai film Sayef by Kongdej Jaturanrassamee and Kiat Sansanandana is a very interesting portrait of a shy girl writing for a tabloid magazine in Bangkok which needs stories which “people need”. But who are the people? The film called Taipei 21 by Alex Yang brings an original view of the contemporary Taiwanese society through the love story of Hong and Jean. And Perth by Djinn from Singapore is a violent version of German England! Perfect main character – a retired security guard, who dreams about leaving the country for Australia. But so much violence! Why? Abjad by Abolfazl Jalili from Iran must be quoted among these important films. And last but not least, Philippine films from Jeturian’s Bridal Shower to Webdiva by Tikoy Aguiluz and international premiere of The most important wealth (2000) by Laurice Guillen (part of her retrospective at the SIFF) showed the range and strength of the Philippine Cinema nowadays. It would be also interesting to answer the question, why are the films made in Singapore, in this tidy and peaceful country, so violent, full of horror and killing. And why film from Israel, Palestine or Iraq’s neighbour Iran are much more peaceful, quiet, depicting the human fate in a fatalistic way.