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Salawati

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“What would really please me is if it [Salawati] challenged people to examine their own belief systems when they think about the characters in the film.”
— Director of Salawati, Marc X Grigoroff, on what he hopes people take away from the film.

salawati.jpgSalawati, the name of the film, and of the 12-year-old female protagonist, is far from what I’d call a one-night-stand film (where you go in, laugh/cry/scream and leave after realising that you’ve wasted two hours of your life, plus $8.50). In fact, the film is hauntingly realistic and unforgettable, with dialogue and scenes that embed themselves in my memory. One such example is the doctor that tells Siti (Salawati’s aunt), who is stricken with cancer: Sometimes I find it difficult to understand God’ ways but I know one thing; that we are here to help each other in whatever way we can.

Set in modern day Singapore, we see the remnants of our patriarchal ideologies as illustrated through Salawati and her family. Her father, Ishak (Zaidi Ibrahim), and his inability to accept, not just the idea of death, but that his only son had died, shows a hint of male offspring favourability, which amplifies as he further neglects Salawati.

That is, like I mentioned, but a remnant. Aside from the ‘sons are jewels’ idealogy of the father, the women in the film display strong and independent personalities. Even little Salawati, whose actions of ‘stalking’ and finding answers for herself, brings out a generation of hope and independence. In fact, the character behaves a little beyond your run-of-the-mill 12-year-olds, but then again, the world never fails to surprise us.

Besides her maturity, Salawati brings forth an entire range of issues that plague not just Singapore, but the entire world. Within, issues of the complex and fragile relationship between people, apathy versus sympathy, family, morality, karma, indifference versus engagement towards life, self-denial and acceptance and city-life struggles are addressed.

One major issue, in fact, was addressed outside the world of Salawati – assumption. Because the film was not presented in chronological order, the audience’s chances of assuming and placing judgement on each character was even greater. This little trick was what made the end (which I will withhold) trigger off the silent “Oh…” from the audiences as it was revealed.

Being a fan of Italian Neo-realism film, Marc uses a number of long takes and montages to tell the story, which sometimes does not sit well with people who are used to many cuts and fancy editing. Yet even through his style Marc urges us to ponder on the situations of the characters and be drawn into their conversation.

As city dwellers the ‘editing’ of our lives may liken to be that of Fast and Furious so I’m glad that Marc chose to use a pace that is less of how city people live.

City life breeds indifference. We go about everyday without any aim, without engaging with things and people around us. I hate this overused cliche but are we always going to wait until the point where something or someone precious might be lost in order to realise their importance?

A good example would be the character Mr Chan, acted brilliantly by veteran television actor (Fish) Chaar Chun Kong. He is one you will come to resent because of his indifference to the world. And in the film, his indifference results in consequences greater than he expects. Amidst all my dislike for Mr Chan, I am embarrassed to say that there are aspects of myself that echo him and perhaps in you too.

In comparison to other local films that were released this year, Salawati is one of the films that depict a natural and perhaps a genuine sense of Singapore’s society.

In the blog-aloud session, Fish mentioned that Marc ascribes to the ‘less is more’ concept. The dialogue and reactions were orchestrated with over exaggerating of actions or emotions. In other words, the film showed how it would be like in any Singaporean’s life. Despite the normality of the film, the thought of ‘this is boring’ never once crossed my mind.

But the best part about Salawati is after watching it, you get a good sense of what Singapore is without having to create a satire about society – it just is.

This review may sound serious and moral but there is a balanced amount of comedy littered in between which complements the ongoing plot. And Salawati as a whole was a very well balanced film. Recalling the ending (which was a good one) I can almost feel Salawati’s peace during the final scene with her immersed in the glorious golden ripples of the death place of her brother.

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