SINdie: SIFF Review: Singapore Shorts Finalists â€“ Part 3
Love Me, Love My Dogs by Lincoln Chia
Love Me, Love My Dogs is an interview with a dog fanatic who owns two Shi Tzu dogs; if I am getting this right. If I get it wrong, I may suffer a severe tongue-lashing from her. She is a young, well-groomed lady named Miss Juliet Toh. Right from the start, she drew so much attention to herself that it was hard not to notice the ‘finer’ details that made her who she was.
She is at first sight an assertive modern woman with very domineering qualities. Dressed in a mustard yellow pants suit at the dog show, her intense eyes belie the control-freak in her. When she is dressed down, the sturdy flesh that is stretching her fitted T-shirt signals to us she could deliver a karate chop if messed around with.
Her hair mirrors one of her dogs, straight in an artificially ironed way â€“ one wonders if she sent the dog for hair-rebonding. Her eyebrows are trimmed and her choice of spectacles complete the meticulous look. And that tone of voice. While it may not politically incorrect to notice it, for the purposes of an enlightened view of the documentary, it may be worth paying attention.
Most of the film is her talking head with the camera occasionally tilting to catch the dogs playing below her. She shares everything about why she loves dogs and the various events that happened in her life in relation to her obsession. She dealt with her father’s disapproval, her son’s ill-treatment of the dogs, the pain of not seeing them when she is abroad and even the heart-wrenching death of her previous pair of dogs. Most of the time, she is matronly in her style, but occasionally, she softens and relents to her emotions, best characterized by her breaking down at the recount of her former dogs’ deaths.
While the interview succeeds in entertaining and engaging us, one could not help notice something tongue-in-cheek about the light in which she was presented. No effort was made to mitigate the giggle-inducing masculinity (literally) of her voice and spirit. The camera shot her point blank and at an uncomfortably close distance (it takes a strong woman like her to still maintain her composure).
I dare say there was that freak-show quality that lingered beneath rather pacifist topic, risking a little political incorrectness. And it seemed to parallel the idea of her taking her dogs to the stage at dog shows. After all, they are equally well-manicured and love the attention. So while we marvel at the state of her obsession, the observant ones will also appreciate the extent of a deeper and longer mission within â€“ to live life the way she wants it.
Wet Season by Michael Tay
If one can turn a green screen into a canvas of emotional expression, it was no surprise that Wet Seasons could turn a simple memory into a Pandora’s box of clever visuals and witty words. Michael opens the film by stepping into position in front of a green screen and pretending to hug someone. A short moment of silence follows, picked up by a thoughtful monologue of his memory of hugging someone dear… someone who has a moustache! Not that I am homoerotically biased, but the mystery behind the man is intriguing. If it was a woman, the story would have been more straightforward. This figure we were made to imagine stood for more than one emotion (assumed to be love) as the story reveals.
Life without the figure (represented by a skeleton) is tough, the house is empty and he needs to find a job to feed himself. As the going gets tougher, his memory of this figure becomes more vivid. The anecdotes are punchy and funny, with my favourite being his (not Michael) culinary creations. These included burnt toast, a charred chicken wing and half-boiled egg with the eggshell still on the same plate. There were also painful moments of physical punishments delivered by the man. And there were the more imagined moments like masturbating side-by-side while sharing porn and also simple moments of embracing on the same bed.
For its free-spirited musings and the montage structure, stop-motion photography was rather appropriately and cleverly used. It was appropriate because he had too much to say and much of it needed visual manipulation. It was clever simply because it was funny yet sad. And the stop-motion quality of the visuals reinforced the comic points even more. On a closer look even the shots were nicely composed, being dramatic (exaggerated angles) at some points and non-chalant at other points.
At the end, it was a 50/50 guess that this man is Michael’s fondly remembered late dad (without reading the synopsis). 50/50 because Michael presented a relationship that was more like a mix of buddy-hood and homoeroticism. Which raises a rather personal point of curiousity – how much of the presentation was subject and how much was craft? Behind a shield of visual hyperbole, it was hard to tell.
Para Asia by Fran Borgia
The ability of the human mind to imagine and recreate has no equivalent. Without having to live through the extremity of horror, death, loss, we as filmmakers have, through the medium of film, been able to utilize our cumulative experience to materialize these circumstances so vividly. Facts, research and other tools aside, I think it is ultimately the unanswered desire for something, could be a feeling or some other form of fulfillment, that gives us this ability.
In Para Asia (Asia as in a Spanish name), the protagonist faces up to the death of his flame. The reasons are unknown but the deep sense of loss is palpable. Returning home from the funeral, he salvages every bit of what she has left behind and this includes enclosing himself in her wardrobe. One can already imagine the scent her clothes have left behind. But finally, he chances upon a set of old film slides from a trunk. They were singular shots of his late partner at a cheery beach setting. From a stack of slides, he starts assembling them on a lighted surface and aligning them in a sequence that pleased him, a process familiar to us all. Then, comes the piece-de-resistance, the film he has pieced together. In an empty cinema, sitting at one side of the frame as if to emphasize the lack of a watching companion, he rolls his hand-made piece of work. Jumpy and flickering incessantly at first, it melds into a smooth seamless footage of his enchanting partner in full colours.
The film could be a dedication to all the people whom we have lost and whom we miss dearly now. But it is also like a tribute to the idea of recreation. In a self-referencing and mirroring way, Para Asia sensitively tracks the steps the man takes from grief to obsession and finally self-gratification, reminding me of the journey I take as a filmmaker in every piece of work. Throughout the film, motifs of images, photographs and black-and-whiteness all serve to reinforce this theme. Even the sound quality reflects a great amount of sensitivity and purpose (though this could be simply due to higher production value). Or maybe when everything is in black and white, we can finally start to hear everything in between the lines.