Humour and Drama By Grégory Valens

in 18th Singapore International Film Festival

by Grégory Valens

In Singapore the multicultural, the film festival is not only the occasion to discover the best of recent world cinema. With a main focus on Asian cinematographies, the festival directed by Philip Cheah, gives local audiences a unique occasion to explore the vast range of differences between the cinemas and cultures of countries as different as Iran, Japan or Indonesia. As a matter of fact, the entries in this year’s Silver Screen Awards competition gave an interesting perspective on the evolution of filmmaking in some of these countries, even though the films themselves were not always of major interest. It is the case of A Time Far Past (Thoi Xa Wang) by Vietnamese director Ho Quang Minh, which studies the evolution of the country over two decades, from the departure of the French to the installation of communism, via the personal story of a boy and two women. One may consider that the film is very academic: the linear narration, the perfect framing, the way the intimate story relates to history remind us that many film directors have treated similar subjects with more exciting results. Without bringing into comparison the masterpieces by David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, Ryan’s Daughter) or Bernardo Bertolucci (1900, The Conformist), we may recall that two years ago, the youg Chinese director Lou Ye proposed with Purple Butterfly a brilliant variation on the subgenre. Nevertheless, the way the characters are treated individually and the absence of propaganda in the cultural background of the film makes it an important step in the recent history of Vietnamese cinema. It is to be underlined that one of the festival’s retrospectives was devoted to Vietnamese cinema, while another focused on Irak.

And it is from Irak indeed that one of the best films shown in Singapore came from: Underexposure (Gheir Saleh) by Oday Rasheed is a stunning debut, as well as the first film produced in the country after the US-led war. Following a film director trying to shoot a film amongst terrorist attacks, the film is a poetic vision of artistic creation, and proposes metaphysical reflections on the power of cinema, empowered by the extraordinary work by director of photography Ziad Turkey.

The other stunning film, awarded by our jury, was the second feature by Marzieh Meshkini, Stray Dogs. The Day I Became a Woman, her first film, was a beautiful meataphore on the condition of women in patriarchal societies, but it was also a typical Iranian film, in the tradition of the Makhmalbaf productions. Stray Dogs shows that Meshkini can have a more original and personal approach to filmmaking. The film is not a pure comedy, but introduces a clever sense of humour to tell a dramatic story (how two children are forced to flee across the Talibans’ Afghanistan), which reminds of the innocence that Kiarostami has lost long ago (one may remember The Passenger, his first feature) and recalls of the humour another Iranian filmmaker, Bahman Ghobadi, shown recently in Turtles Can Fly.

As Eric Khoo’s Be With Me was to premiere in Cannes, there was no Singapore feature shown in the festival, but there was a big, international event: a retrospective of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s career, in presence of the director, who gave a master class and introduced Cafe Lumiere with great humour. Humour, as it turned out, seemed to be this past year a perfect arm for filmmakers from around Asia who wished to share their feelings on very dramatic issues.