SIFF 2008 — Milky Way Liberation Front, Keronchong for Pak Bakar, After the Rain

(cross-posted on the SFS blog. To see all cross-posts, click on the “SFS Blog” tag or category)

Leaving the cinema after the end credits for Milky Way Liberation Front rolled, that was the end of SIFF 2008 for me. I was already tired when we sat down to watch that movie. It was a good way to end the festival. Milky Way Liberation Front was fun, a long string of gags that gently poke fun at indie filmmaking, film festivals and the people who participate in them.

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Like his first short Datura, Abdul Nizam’s Keronchong for Pak Bakar is distinguished by impressionistic editing with strong narration and the use of vocabulary with religious undertones. There isn’t a clear narrative or chronological momentum, but the mix of image and narration can be slightly hypnotic.

I agree with Tan Pin Pin’s comments about the film: the work is concerned more with Abdul Nizam’s relationship with Abu Bakar bin Ali than with the latter’s past. In fact the documentary strongly suggests that the Abdul Nizam in the film is seeking a father figure identified with the golden age of Malay cinema. This search is expressed early in the movie as a search to know more about movie legend P Ramlee, through which Abdul Nizam discovers serendipitously that the man who lensed many of his movies lived just above him. At one point, Abdul Nizam expresses in regretful tones how he discovered too late that his hardworking father had loved film stars and movies. Throughout, Abdul Nizam is extremely respectful – even protective – towards Abu Bakar.

The material used in the documentary come from two major sources. The first is clearly the recorded footage from Abdul Nizam’s conversations with Abu Bakar. The second is more mysterious — footage of a train journey up Malaysia to Penang, ostensibly taken while location scouting for a feature film on P Ramlee’s life (according to Abdul Nizam the project eventually fell through).

Empty spaces feature prominently here, partly illustrating Pak Bakar’s current solitude. When I asked Abdul Nizam why he weaved in the silent, lonely sequences from his train journey, he indicated that it was partly to convince Abu Bakar to come out of his solitude more often, perhaps to work on film again.

That documentary left the audience with far more questions about Abu Bakar Ali than answers. Why did Abu Bakar stop working on films? Why does he mostly talk about technical matters — for most of the documentary he is fiddling with an old Bolex handheld camera — and nothing about himself?

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I’m still surprised and a bit disgusted that SIFF screened Royston Tan’s latest short “film” After the Rain before Keronchong for Pak Bakar. Rose-tinted nostalgia and banal cliches (the father coughs to prefigure his eventual death) pliantly placed in the service of the Singapore government’s ideological imperatives. This is not a film but an advertisement, worse than the Citibank ads played before every SIFF screening because of its slick hypocrisy. Why did SIFF even bother?

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