Singapore Short Cuts [2nd weekend]
The second weekend screening of the 4th Singapore Short Cuts on Aug 18 at the National Museum Gallery Theatre saw a strong and stylistically varied selection of local short films. The unifying quality of the afternoon’s five shorts seems to be an element of the surreal that ran through every narrative, be it the story’s contents or presentational form.
Like a toss-up of fantastical dream sequences, the featured film images were sometimes dislocated and intense, at others teasing, poignant and just plain out of this world.
The session kicked off with Charles Limâ€™s â€œWrong Turnâ€, which had live music playing while action continued onscreen, producing more of a video art piece than a short film per se. Depicting â€œseveral urban archetypes of Singaporeâ€ all apparently lost in a jungle, the film was a delightful experiment in hyperrealism with a landscape of overtly bright jungle green, emphasizing the bewilderment of the displaced characters. Shot entirely with a still camera, actors had to move very slowly to achieve the stop-motion-like effects onscreen. The showâ€™s live backing music also included a live jungle soundscape fed in real-time using a phone call director Lim made to his friend during the screening. â€œWrong Turnâ€ certainly impressed one with its attention to form and blending of performance vocabularies.
Gavin Limâ€™s â€œTracksâ€ followed a more linear narrative and a largely actor-oriented approach. Meng has been meeting Vivienne every night in the MRT for the past three weeks, waiting anxiously for her on the Bishan platform in a series of jump cut repetitions. Infused with a Wong Kar Wai-esque language of achingly time-sensitive romantic exchanges, an obsessive Meng recollects his shared memories with Vivienne, refusing to move on from their defunct relationship. The scenes, therefore, were aptly and ironically set in the MRT with characters always on the go â€“ yet going nowhere at all. Though several lines of the dialogue felt quite contrite and the crying scenes seemed to be overplayed (and compounded by extreme close-up shots), â€œTracksâ€ tapped on a poignant message that would surely hit the hearts of those who have lost a loved one in some way.
In Pok Yue Wengâ€™s cheekily titled â€œSuperdongâ€, the director successfully tickled audiences with a four-minute flick on the secret lives of toilet graffiti. Dramatised by whimsical animation sequences with a tongue-in-cheek Chinese wayang soundtrack, the film featured a dirty doodle of a dick terrorising other native graffiti inhabitants â€“ other body parts (best left unnamed) â€“ on the walls of a public toilet. Hilarious and irreverent, â€œSuperdongâ€ also had a toilet cleaner with a somewhat deadpan persona which added to the filmâ€™s refreshing and unpretentious humour.
Next came the more existential tale of â€œFonziâ€ directed by Kirsten Tan. Fonzi, a movie character more alive than she should be, dreams up her own world and struggles to escape the clutches of some greater obscure authority. She is confronted by her own image in a television set advising her to give up trying to be real. The sepia-coloured short employed a story-within-a-story narrative, which questioned themes of freedom, control, autonomy and self-realisation. One is reminded of â€œThe Matrixâ€ in a reference to the impossibility of existence beyond a certain â€œframeâ€. Fonzi, with her awkwardly endearing striped socks and Mary Janes, uncovers the unsettling truth of her loneliness, amplified by the filmâ€™s panning shots of barren fields and empty cinema seats. The story challenged audiences with an open-ended finale of Fonzi, having begged for freedom, released into a long road where she ran further away from us into the horizon. Is she free because she has understood precisely the lack of her freedom?
Finally, the film â€œTake Me Home a.k.a. I Saw Jesusâ€ delivered an atmospheric rendition of sunny, soft-focus images shot in 8mm with an ambiguously dated narrative. Three seemingly unrelated characters are depicted going about their daily affairs but connections are later established after a hit-and-run scene. The directors attempted to make a â€œconnection between long scenes and the musicâ€ in the film, spending much (if not all) of their budget on the 8mm equipment to achieve a melancholic effect visually. While the film did succeed in arousing a certain nostalgia from some forgotten past, the film was far too grainy, and watches very much like a tedious extended music video with audiences having to piece together the discrepant storytelling.
In all, this second weekend offering was a satisfyingly layered collection that left one as much entertained as one was left thinking all the way out of the theatre.