Friday, February 29, 2008

What We Want

It was reading this article that made me think more than just a little bit. The writer proposes that far from being disenchanted, the youth of Malaysia don't actually want to revolutionise; rather, stability, and economic success are at the forefront of their minds.

I beg to differ from the assumption of the article. Quite frankly, from what I have observed, the majority of Malaysian youngsters and my peers that I do know don't actually know what they want.

At times, I wonder whether I know what I want as well, so I am not always exempted from this opinion myself. Moments of doubts always hits me in waves; a recent one hit harder than usual. But having doubts, I suppose, is different to not knowing what you want.

The people that I know, the people that I talk about, they don't know what they want. Quite frankly, they make up a big percentage of my peers, the current generation. A lot of my friends don't know what they want to do with themselves. They don't know of the kind of jobs or fields that they want to do, studying what they studied only because of parental or peer pressure.

A lot of my peers do not have much of an opinion on the actual elections. Despite the wealth of information and statistics that are available should they look for it, many don't. Many, as stated in the article, are indeed interested in having stability and economic success. This, however, has to be quantified in the personal: many of my friends want stability of jobs, because they want to get the nice perks of a nice job. A nice car. A nice house. All the nice materials that comes along with it.

Hence, many agree to be shoehorned into stability: into accounting, into law, into a private education, into anything and everything that can be deemed to further their needs. That furthers them closer to what they want.

So a lot of us are conservative about what we want, as the article puts it. I say for a large part that it is not untrue, but that is because we don't actually know what we want. A lot of us don't actually feel what we want. Quite frankly, the state of society do not allow for us to fully explore what it is what we want.

And when we do know what we want, we don't know how to get what we want. Once again, society do not fully support many ventures beyond conventionality and conservatism. And when it comes to politics, to elections...forget about it.

A mental straw poll off the top of my head would put the people who do make the effort, who do register to vote and wish to have a say in the running of the country, in the minority. The rest are content to sit back and enjoy the view. If they are indeed content, then that is completely fine. Unlike a few others, I believe that someone has just as much right to not vote as they do to vote, so long as their decision is an informed one, and one that they made themselves. Unfortunately, however, this is probably why we won't, as the article puts it, revolutionise.

After all, how can you revolutionise, if you don't actually know what you want to revolutionise for?

How can you change if you don't know what it is that you're changing to? And, for that matter, what you're changing from?

Tricky.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Korean Cinema

"Anyeong ha seyo," I greeted my handler as I arrived at Incheon International Airport. "Ooh, ooh," she gasped, before catching her breath, "you speak Korean!" "Well, no," I corrected her, "I just watched Winter Sonata."

An answer that no doubt a fair amount of people across Asia can give. That, and 'Full House', 'Love Story at Harvard', and many others that might jump to your mind. They are all Korean dramas, part of the Hallyu wave that swept across Asia during the late years of the last millennium. Initially referred to TV serials that became ultra popular, it came to encompass pretty much everything that came out of Korea. I say swept, but in truth, the wave is still sweeping, judging by the reaction given to popular Korean singer Rain when he dropped by here recently.

Not getting left behind are their movies, and that particular wave is not just limited to Asia. It's more like a typhoon, a freak of mother nature that rampages in cinemas worldwide. Rare is the international film festival that passes without the inclusion of some Korean films.

It helps, of course, that national law favours the films heavily. The Screen Quota system ensures that there is a number of screening days per year that is reserved for local films (it currently stands at around the 70 day mark, reduced from over 140 days due to the Free Trade Agreement with the United States earlier this year). It helps to the Korean films to remain visible. In the United States, films would be lucky to survive half that long at the box office. This ruling has helped to make Korean cinema more popular and profitable that it might have been otherwise (though the long term effects of the reduced quota remains to be seen).

Having said that, it helps that Korean society as a whole remains rather inclusive to themselves. Generally speaking, people outside of Seoul are not as exposed to the outside world, and a large number still cannot speak or understand English well. There's a shift in this way of thought, with the newer generations improving on this apparent disadvantage. A disadvantage is it not for Korean cinema as a whole, as that particular characteristic, by default, renders Korean films to be more popular in contrast to Hollywood films. It's almost as if the movies are shown on their terms, without even English subtitles to help this foreigner along. Even the cartoons have a Korean version of their own, voiced by Korean personalities. I realised this to my own disadvantage after the first five minutes of Disney's 'Cars' ("That red car didn't sound like Owen Wilson...").

Since the beginning of the new millennium, Korean films have regularly outsold its foreign counterparts. And a fair amount of their films also do relatively well overseas, getting lots of praise, if not necessarily money. The hallyu wave, remember?

These are the main reasons why the Korean film industry is the overbearing monster that it is. It is its own mother nature, an industry that is capable of being self sufficient and indepenednet enough to do its own thing. This goes towards the independent approach to filmmaking.

Independent films in Korea have a life of their own, a living, breathing industry that lives perfectly fine without its mainstream relative. This has a lot to do with filmmaking and the arts as such being considered as a fine profession on its own. For example, if a Korean youth tells his or her parents that there is something here in the arts industry, in the film industry, that calls out to him and makes it work for him, chances are, support will be given. Parents everywhere are concerned primarily with only one thing, and that is the welfare of their children. So long as there is food on the table. And the food can be put on the table consistently because, as I've said before, the independent filmmaking industry can live and breathe on its own. There are always jobs around somewhere, and the chances of making a decent living in the film industry (even as an actor, a cinematographer, an editor - it pays to specialise) is much higher compared to Malaysia.

Tell your parents that you want to be a filmmaker. What do you think the reaction is likely to be?

It helps that the arts is not particularly looked down upon in Korea. This is not just in films, but also in music, traditional arts, and other forms of cultural expression. One feels that in Malaysia, the emphasis is given a bit too much towards the subjects and interests that leads to safe jobs like being a lawyer, a doctor, or an accountant. All very fine and well, but again, it comes to the nature of the jobs: safety. Such jobs always have a stable income, while filmmaking in Malaysia has yet to reach the stage where many can be self sufficient being a full-time independent filmmaker.

There are, of course, the select few who do get there, as there always will be. The names of Amir Muhammad, James Lee, and Yasmin Ahmad, amongst others, jumps to mind.

But how does it work? How does one fund oneself to the point where one can live as an independent? Well, that can easily be summed up into one word: network. By this, I am referring to the helpone can get in making the film, and the avenues through which the films are shown.

When I was in Korea, I was hosted by the Jeonbuk Independent Film Association. Let's not look so much towards the first word, for it denotes nothing than the name of the region. More interest should be in the latter three: Independent Film Association. There are, of course, many regions in Korea, and most of them have an agency or an organisation that would prove to be a crucial starting point for independent filmmakers. Should you ever need help with logistics, equipment, perhaps even help with the cast. It is the spot for you. Even if the organisation can't extend more than a few tripods your way, they can connect you to others who can get you bigger tripods. This is what I mean when I say network: there are always ways for you to get to where you want to go.

It also helps that there are a fair number of means to show your films. As a whole, Korea hosts at least one international film festival a month in different cities. They all have a theme, something that makes them slightly different from one another (Jaecheon International Music and Film Festival, the Women's International Film Festival in Seoul, etc). Having said that, there is still a very strong Korean presence at these festivals, the needs of the local filmmaker never fair from the organisers's minds. Each festival is professionally organised, with one single organisation focused on the task throughout the year. Hence, the Jeonju International Film Festival is sorted out by...the Jeonju International Film Festival Foundation. For the entire calendar year, that organisation works primarily with that particular event.

But it's not difficult, right?” you might think. “Get the movies in, pick the good ones, then show lah!” Well, there's that. But a film festival in Korea is more than just a film festival. In a sense, it is a big social event, a happening that the whole town can get into at the same time. It's something that boyfriends can bring their girlfriends to, somewhere families can spend some quality time together, and of course...where other filmmakers meet other other filmmakers. The festivals invite these directors to town, and what happens is by the end of their screening, they would be subject to a Q&A session. And then there are concerts, open air screenings, competitions...the list goes on and on. Like I said, it's not just a film festival. It's a social event, almost like a way of life, even.


And, I suppose, that is the crux of the matter, the heart of the issue. Filmmaking, independent or otherwise, is seen as something that is perfectly fine for people to adopt as their way of life. I personally feel that Malaysia can also get up to a similar level, to a level where the industry is well looked after and supported by both the people and the government. Of course, quality is also an issue, and filmmakers have the responsibility to tell interesting stories in an interesting way. Easier said that done, of course, but then again, so is speaking Korean...

*An article published mid 2007 in Sinema Malaysia, an internally circulated magazine of the National Film Body.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fallen

This is actually the second time I'm uploading this video, because the first video link was flagged. However, I am persisting, because this is one of my favourite moments from the Oscars this year. It's a beautiful performance of a beautiful song, from a movie that I had written about here.



And this is my favourite moment of the Oscars.


I clapped long and loud for this :) Enjoy.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Because They're Worth It

Q. If Real Madrid is at the bottom of the Spanish league, which make-up do they use?

A. L'Oreal (Low Real).

Ha ha. :)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Out of Ordinary

I am a female Chinese Malaysian, living in the Washington DC area in the United States. I have read many of the letters that often talk about foreign countries when the writers have no real knowledge of actually living in those countries.

Many draw conclusions about what those countries are like after hearing it from someone else or by reading and hearing about them in the media or after four years in a college town in those countries.

I finished STPM with outstanding results from the prestigious St George's Girls School in Penang. Did I get a university place from the Malaysia government? Nothing. With near perfect scores, I had nothing, while my malay friends were getting offers to go overseas.

Even those with 2As got into university. I was so depressed. I was my parents last hope for getting the family out of poverty and at 18, I thought I had failed my parents. Today, I understand it was the Malaysia government that had failed me and my family because of its discriminatory policies.

Fortunately, I did not give up and immediately did research at the Malaysian American Commission on Education Exchange (MACEE) to find a university in the US that would accept me and provide all the finances. My family and friends thought I was crazy, being the youngest of nine children of a very poor carpenter. Anything that required a fee was out of our reach.

Based on merit and my extracurricular activities of community service in secondary school, I received full tuition scholarship, work study, and grants to cover the four years at a highly competitive US university.

Often, I took 21 credits each semester, 15 credits each term while working 20 hours each week and maintaining a 3.5 CGPA. A couple of semesters, I also received division scholarships and worked as a TA (teaching assistant) on top of everything else.

For the work study, I worked as a custodian (yes, cleaning toilets), carpet layer, grounds keeping, librarian, painter, tour guide, computer lab assistant, etc. If you understand the US credit system, you will understand this is a heavy load.

Why did I do it? This is because I learnt as a young child from my parents that hard work is an opportunity, to give my best in everything, and to take pride in the work I do. I walked away with a double major and a minor with honours but most of all a great lesson in humility and a great respect for those who are forced to labour in so-called 'blue collar' positions.

Those of you who think you know all about Australia, US, or the West, think again. Unless you have really lived in these countries, i.e. paid a mortgage, paid taxes, taken part in elections, you do not understand the level of commitment and hard work it takes to be successful in these countries, not just for immigrants but for people who have lived here for generations.

These people are where they are today because of hard work. (Of course, I am not saying everyone in the US is hardworking. There is always the lazy lot which lives off of someone else's hard work. Fortunately, they are the minority.)

Every single person, anywhere, should have the opportunity to succeed if they want to put in the effort and be accountable for their own actions. In the end, they should be able to reap what they sow.

It is bearable that opportunities are limited depending on how well-off financially one's family is but when higher education opportunities are race-based, like it is in Malaysia; it is downright cruel for those who see education as the only way out of poverty.

If you want to say discrimination is here in the US, yes, of course it is. Can you name a country where it doesn't happen? But let me tell you one thing - if you go looking for it, you will find it. But in Malaysia, you don't have to go look for it because it seeks you out, slaps you in your face every which way you turn, and is sanctioned by law!

Here in the US, my children have the same opportunity to go to school and learn just like their black, white, and immigrant friends. At school, they eat the same food, play the same games, are taught the same classes and when they are 18, they will still have the same opportunities.

Why would I want to bring my children back to Malaysia? So they can suffer the state-sanctioned discrimination as the non-malays have for over 30 years?

As for being a slave in the foreign country, I am a happy 'slave' earning a good income as an IT project manager. I work five days a week; can talk bad about the president when I want to; argue about politics, race and religion openly; gather with more than 50 friends and family when I want (no permit needed) and I don't worry about the police pulling me over because they say I ran the light when I didn't.

How about you.............?

2/15/2008 04:28:00 PM

*A Comment by Molisa on 'The Hijacking of Public Education' post on the Education in Malaysia blog.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Local Cover

"No, I don't watch local movies," said the interviewee. She was being interviewed by Marzuki, the roving ntv7 reporter, who interviewed people on the streets. "I don't think that they're very good."

Her comments sparked a fire in me, and I waved in exasperation to the studio presenter, who was surprised by my reactions, but pleasantly so. Of course, the people at home couldn't see all this happening; they're being fed the live feed from Pavillion.

Soon enough, my chance came.

"Thanks, Marzuki," she beamed into the camera. "Now we have a very animated Fikri, who has been waving his arms, ready to jump in and defend the Malaysian film industry! Alright Fikri, take it away."

Here's my chance, to talk about a particular pet subject of mine. And the first thought that came through my mind, as I looked at the red light atop the studio camera was...might I freeze?

Freeze, my ass.

"It's not so much defending the local film industry," I started, "although there are elements of that. What I personally take issue with is the fact that...there is this discontent with anything that is tagged as 'local'. Anything that is made in Malaysia, certainly when it comes to films, music, and what not, is automatically thought of as inferior. This applies to other sections of society as well, but let's stick with films for now."

"Let's consider when people usually go to the cinemas at the weekends," I continued. My father would later tell me that my hands were animated themselves, the chops and side movements taking on a life of its own. "When people go to watch movies, their biggest concern will be 'Should I watch 'AvP 2, or I Am Legend?' A lot of people that I know won't even entertain the thought of watching a local Malaysian movies."

"I don't actually have an issue with this. After all, a lot of the times, a local movie directly means a Malay movie, told in the Malay language, set in Malay settings, and what not. Many people I know are not keen on this. That's a whole other issue in itself, but in this context, it's perfectly fine. And it's not exactly as if the majority of local movies that I've seen have covered itself in glory, either. Some of the ones that I've watched are absolutely poor, poor films." At this point, the presenter's fixed smile widened a bit more.

I smiled back and continued. "Furthermore, if you can get the best of Hollywood's special effects and explosions for the same price, then why not go for that one, right? Get more of your money's worth."

"What I do have an issue with, however," getting to the point of this whole stance, "is the fact that people judge local films inadequately. When I say judge, I mean conclude, almost immediately, that the film is terrible, that it's not worth watching, that it's going to be a waste of time and money. When I say inadequately, for the large part, I mean that the judgement is due to the fact that it is local, and nothing else. Many people won't bother reading the synopsis, look at who's in the film, or who's directing it. The minute they understand the writing on the poster to be of the Malay language, they tune it out."

"If it's not your cup of tea, it's fine. Like I said, a lot of my friends are not that well-versed in the national language. So that's fine. But if you come out, guns blazing, and said that it's crap, and say that it's crap because it's a local movie, then I have a big issue with that. Quite frankly, its akin to discrimination, and the simplification of things. You might as well say that I'm lazy, because I am Malay. Or I could just as well say that you're Chinese, so you must be rich."

"I mean, judging a movie before its seen, before it has served its purpose in this world, is absolutely ridiculous. It's like the Pope condemning, and by default, leading most of the Catholics, at least, in the world, to condemn The Golden Compass and boycott it, without even watching it, is a pathetic notion. If they think it's a piece of propaganda crap, then it's a judgement that should be arrived at after watching the movie."

"When The Last Communist, the film by Amir Muhammad, was banned, there were widespread condemnation on the government, saying that the reasons given was weak. I see that condemnation almost every week, with the same weak reasons. Once again, I can understand the reasonings, but I don't agree with it."

"But you have to agree, at least," started the presenter, who had been a bystander over the past two minute tirade, "that there's not a lot of Malaysian movies out there that has inspired the excitement, or the quality needed to get people to watch it."

"I do agree with that," I said, still in my debater mode. "Like I have said, there are a lot of Malaysian movies that are just rubbish. If I can get my money back for Cinta Yang Satu, I will. That movie was a complete waste of my time, a TV drama masquerading as a cinematic feature."

"But there is hope. I believe that for two reasons. One, there is quality out there. Even in the last year, Mukhsin is very well made. Zombi Kampung Pisang was hilarious. Stupid, but in a good way. Dancing Bells and Flower in the Pocket were international hits at their respective film festivals. I haven't seen Anak Halal yet, but I've heard only good things of it. Puaka Tebing Biru is about as unconventional as a horror movie could be. And so on. The quality is already here, but unfortunately, it's being shut out by a lot of the movie-going crowd."

"The other reason is that the type of movies that is made, a lot of the times, are not interesting enough. Out of over twenty films released last year, three quarters of that are horror films and comedy. I believe that we should be braver in terms of the films that is being made, that is being financed. Variety, after all, is the spice of life, and the same goes for the movies."

"What kind of movies would you make?"

"Malaysian movies," I said without hesitation. "I want to focus more on events that has happened, is happening, and will happen. There's a lot of indie fare that gives us slices of Malaysian life, but I think that there's not enough movies that looks at events that has already happened in Malaysia. Off the top of my head, only Budak Lapok looks at that, and that's a cartoon about P. Ramlee and his friends."

"We have such a wide and varied history and culture that's somehow not translated onto the big screen. Let's not even look at controversial issues like May 13 or the recent rallies. Why not a movie about Tunku Abdul Rahman? Or Tun Mahathir? P. Ramlee is about as iconic as any Malaysian figure could be, and yet what do we have on him? It's only recently that a musical was made about his life. Beyond that, I don't recall anything else."

"Look at the subjects of American movies. They, as much as anyone else, turn to their own culture and history and literature. The Oscar nominees, lets say. There Will Be Blood? Based on a book. No Country For Old Men? Based on a book. Elizabeth and I Am Not There? Based on historical figures. Even the blockbusters: I Am Legend, a remake of a film based on a book. Lord of the Rings? Chronicles of Narnia? Harry Potter, even? Based on a book."

"Then look at us. How many films are based on books? We proudly and rightly proclaim A Samad Said as a 'sasterawan' negara. How many times have his book, Adik Datang, been made? If the Americans have Tunku Abdul Rahman as their own historical figure, they would have made at least two movies about him, no doubt about it. Right now, we don't have enough of these sort of movies. Correct this," I paused, "and we'll get better."

There was a short moment of silence, as we (and the Information Minister, as it turned out, who was watching at home) digest what I had just said.

Then the presenter looked back at the camera, and smiled. "We'll be right back, after the break."


*I have to note: some creative license. I couldn't recall the exact exchange, and I added a few more examples here to hammer home my point further. But beyond this, the gist is about as true as it gets.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Will of God

God.

The very reason, I believe, that we are here to begin with. No doubt many would feel the same way, just as there are just as many who would not believe in God's existence. Nevertheless, whether or not one believes in it, God plays an important role in your life.

As much as it is a nice, even romantic choice that you and you alone determine the path that your life takes, the truth is not as easy that. As tempting as it is to believe that it is your will, your determination and your passion alone that can move mountains, the role of others come into play as well.

As hard as you can study for your exams, the final marks are ultimately metered out by the examiners. As well as you can prepare for that job interview, the choice lies in the hands of the three-people panel who interrogate you, dissect you, take you to pieces before putting it all together again and sleeping on the final decision for days, if not weeks.

Nay, unfortunately for you and me, the only thing that we can do is to believe that we have done our best and let the role of others be played, hopefully in a fair way.

So where does God fit into all this?

Well, the simple answer is everything. After all, like I said, God gave life to you, me, and everything else (or so I believe). But at times, God irks me.

Rather, it is the people who use God as a reason, as a justification, as an excuse, that irks me. Quite frankly, ends justifies means for many, and God is used as the bridge between announcement, execution, and consequence.

Which leads to the point of this post: that of leaving things in the hands of God. When things go well, God is the reason. When things don't work out, God is also the reason. I guess I should be the first to say that this is fine. Stopping there, however, stopping at God and God alone, leads nowhere.

You see, I also believe that God gave us free will. The will to seek out that which we desire. We are also given (generally): arms, legs, a relatively fit body, and a brain to work things out for ourselves. We should use these to the best of our abilities to do that which we want.

But I see a lot of people around me who do not do that. Who sit around, waiting, praying, and begging for things to be laid out on a silver platter. I see those who do not haul their ass off the ground and sweat it all out to make it work.

And I see these people saying, "Ah well, it is not God's will."

It is these people that irks me. I shan't mention names, but we, as able-minded and generally able-bodied people, you and I (otherwise you might not be reading this blog), have a duty, a responsibility, to do what we do to the very best that we can. Like I said, if this were all the factors needed for success, then I won't be writing this blog. I'd be living it up large in my penthouse apartment in the middle of town.

Maybe.

The point is, in everything that we do, we do the best we can. God gave us free will. He may know what will happen in the end, but we still ought to believe that we can have an influence in the outcome. That we can make a difference. Thus, we give it all we've got. The rest is up to other people.

And...well, God.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Death Row - A Closer Look at Ingmar Bergman's 'The Seventh Seal'


"And when he had opened the
seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour" (Revelation 8:1).


Death, as in life, can be ironic. The passing of Ingmar Bergman in July this year provoked much outpouring of grief and respect for the man, one that was universal in its mourning for the loss of one of film's most renowned directors. Ironic, because as a director, his films can be downright depressing. Witness Winter Light, a movie about faith (or its lack of) in religion, and The Seventh Seal (which we will look at closer). Such is the angst caused by his films and the man himself that the Swedish film magazine Chaplin published an anti-Bergman issue in the late 60s.


And yet, here he lies, a man hailed by Swedish royal King Carl XVI Gustaf as “one of Sweden's greatest directors and dramatists of all time.” Here is Woody Allen, deifying Bergman as a film god of sorts. “The finest filmmaker of my lifetime,” he wrote in a New York Times article.


A religious one, too. Perhaps Bergman himself may have had issues with this, but in the sense that his movies deals a lot with religion, he is a religious filmmaker. In this article, I will take a closer look at The Seventh Seal. Often described as one of the most influential films of all time, it is a movie remains in one's consciousness long after its viewing.



The movie opens with a medieval knight, Antonius Block, stranded on the beach, having made his way home from the Crusades. He despairs at the plague which have been ravaging the country. Unfortunately for him, the Death that has stalked the lands has come for him too. Cloaked in black, he stands there, announcing his presence. “I have long walked by your side.” “So I have noticed,” says Block. “Are you ready?” Death asks him. “My body is ready,” the knight admits, “but I am not.”


What struck me the most about this opening exchange is the way that Block kept calm. One would think that a more explicit reaction would be more appropriate, and yet, he asks Death to play a game of chess with him. The common reading into this is that he is playing for time, rather than for the possibility of winning his life back.


But why? The knight's loss of faith is often highlighted, but here I find it ironic and slightly more than interesting that despite his loss in faith, he still confesses to a priest in the church. It is the act of one who still believes in God, rather than the opposite. “I want to confess as best I can, but my heart is void. The void is a mirror. I see my face and I feel loathing and horror. My indifference to men has shut me out. I live now in a world of ghosts, a prisoner in my dreams.” It is this set of contradictions that keeps me intrigued every time I see this scene. Does he have faith in God, or has it been lost? What is it that drives this man on?


On repeat viewings, I find myself wondering more and more how much of the knight is Bergman. Bergman himself had difficulties in reconciling the faith that he was born into. He questioned the existence of God, an aspect of himself seen in this movie here. As he plays chess with Death, the knight himself is full of questions about God. “Don't you ever stop asking?” Death exasperates. “No,” Block fling back. “I never stop.”


And it is not only an act with which he does with Death either. Upon meeting a woman claimed to be a witch that has brought the plague, he asks whether the witch has met the Devil. “I want to ask him about God. He must know. He, if anyone.”


The movie continues in this ultra critical vein of the church. The clergymen of the time were portrayed as nothing better than thieves, more content and willing to line their own pockets and bellies rather than offer the guidance which their role calls for. “Why should one always make people happy?” asks the painter, who created the mural of death at the church. “It might be a good idea to scare them once in a while.”


Despite all this dark clouds hanging above the main characters, the movie is not without its bright moments. By and large, these comes from Jof, the juggler, and his wife Mia. They have a small child together, and Jof himself has visions of the Virgin Mary.


By the end of his journey, once he had reached home, the knight is finally ready to follow his body and leave this world. “I shall remember this moment: the silence, the twilight, the bowl of strawberries, the bowl of milk. Your faces in the evening light. Mikael asleep, Jof with his lyre. I shall try to remember our talk. I shall carry this memory carefully in my hands as if it were a bowl brimful of fresh milk. It will be a sign to me, and a great sufficiency.”


The final scene, that of Block and his friends and family being led by Death on the hill, away into the afterlife, has long been hailed as one of the most memorable scenes in cinematic history. In watching it again, the visual impact of the scene diminishes somewhat. Perhaps repeat viewings fails to capture, as it so often happens, the actual beauty of the scene. The spiritual impact, however, seeing the condemned marched to their end while Jof's family lives on another day, remains.


Once again, it struck me that while there may be death in The Seventh Seal, there is also hope, innocence, and salvation that can yet be found. What's even more surprising is that that scene itself wasn't included in the original script. Legend has it that Bergman had finished filming when he was lured by the sky's formation. Hastily, he dressed various crew members in the actor's clothes (the actors themselves had already departed), and shot that scene in a few minutes, without any rehearsals.


That final scene itself marks the contradiction of this movie. The words of Yasmin Ahmad, when promoting Mukhsin, comes back to me. “I try and make sure there is room for audience interpretation. I bring maybe 70% to the screen, and leave the remaining 30% for the audience to bring in their own readings.”


With Bergman, and more specifically with this film, it is close to 100% in his own interpretation of life and death. There is little room for you breathe and to make your own conclusions. He has spent practically the whole movie hitting organised religion with bricks and mortars. Having said that, the knight himself continues to question, and in that sense, continues to behave as if he still believes in God. Hope, then, as symbolised by Jof's family, lives on.



*An article written for Sinema Malaysia, an internally-circulated magazine at the National Film Body, FINAS.


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Time Upon A 'Once'


Once
is a movie written and directed by John Carney. It stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, and is set in Dublin, Ireland.

The story follows a guy (Hansard) who works as a hoover repairman, and busks to make extra money on the side. One day, he meets a girl (Irglova), a Czech immigrant who does odd jobs to make ends meet, but plays the piano whenever she can. Spending more time together, they write songs, telling of their respective love story, and the love story that never was.

Now why am I writing about it? I watch a lot of movies; mostly legally, some not. I enjoy most of them, and can appreciate the aesthetics of those that I don't.

But few are as earnest as Once. Few made me feel like I want to come online, blog about it, and explain why is it that I find it incredibly moving.

Except that I can't, because...well, sometimes the words required fail to properly express that which is within. I am struck by its sincerity, I am inspired by its simplicity, I am driven by its heart, but beyond that...


...beyond that, it is simply a movie that you have to watch. For perhaps it will inspire you and make you feel in the same way. Perhaps you, too, will see the beauty of the film.

And in turn, see the beauty in the most simple and most ordinary of your life itself.