‘Osmosis of Dad & The Love For Bubble T’ on Y2K Paranoia to Deliver a Pointed Exploration of Nostalgia
A magic TV that shows troubled couch potatoes their innermost desire becomes an object of obsession when a teenager tries to overcome his father’s loss by holding on to the past, only to realise he needs to focus his deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend.
Director: Muhammad Nasiruddin Bin Abdul Razak
Cast: Jaramie Tan, Esther Low, Michael Chua, Brien Lee
Runtime: 15 minutes
The year is 1999 and people are freaking out over Y2K. Planes are going to fall out of the sky! Entire bank savings are about to go up in smoke! Survival kits and scores of related books flooded shelves all dedicated to helping people survive the world-ending catastrophe that was 1 January 2000.
Osmosis of Dad & The Love For Bubble T places its story of love and loss amidst the fever pitch of Y2K panic. Nominated for several categories at the 2015 National Youth Film Awards (NYFA) while bagging its Best Cinematography prize, it’s a short that bravely punches above its weight, twisting and intertwining its themes into an intimately poetic tale.
Osmosis sees teen couple Noel (Jaramie Tan) and Cindy (Esther Low) dealing with the death of Noel’s father, Jian (Michael Chua). Noel is devastated, throwing temper tantrums at Cindy whenever she looks to help Noel move on. In between their heated arguments, Noel spends his time with a magical television that replays all his fondest memories with his father.
Set on the edge of 1999, news narrations of Y2K rattle throughout the short. This pairing is particularly potent when the short dives into Noel’s memories, creating an atmosphere of haunting uncertainty. Yet when Cindy gets her hands on the television – giving her a glimpse of happier times shared with Noel – not a twinkle of fear or anxiety is present, with narration replaced by easy guitars and smooth vocals.
While the emotional weight of a father’s death and the passing of a couple’s honeymoon period are wildly different, the short juxtaposes both characters’ experience with the television as a parable of how one deals with nostalgia. Nostalgia becomes a denial of the painful present for Noel, clinging onto memories in fears of them fading away. Meanwhile Cindy cherishes what has happened and fully accepts that their better times together are perhaps only present in the past.
It may be an exploration that slightly falters in its pairing but the overall execution is still nonetheless gentle and effective. Much of it has to do with the short’s brilliant use of the Y2K context, allowing Osmosis to say so much more than its brief runtime and humble production budget can allow.
Building on the narrative is the short’s cinematography, lending a strong hand at nailing its dreamlike, bittersweet tone. Flashbacks gleam in a rose-tinted glint, with carefree handheld shots nabbing the yearning of its characters while they frolic amidst soft guitars. Comparatively, the fragmented couple is framed with cold, static shots to detail their verbal joustings.
With a narrow and precise scope, it unfortunately brings to attention some of the weaker performances in the short – although not necessarily because of the actors themselves. Unequal weight is put upon both characters, with Low having to do the heavy-lifting as Cindy. She brings out all the painful nuances of a lover bleeding to keep the relationship alive, keeping the audience invested in the tension.
Tan, however, plays the distressed Noel with a one-dimensional hue mostly because of the material given to him. Noel is seen as either trying his best to relive his memories with his father or lashing out at his caring girlfriend. This leads to Tan bringing across Noel’s helpless disillusionment without any room for sympathy. The Y2K context sets the stage for the unfound fears of losing everything immaterial to parallel Noel’s growth. Yet, I felt that the lack of depth in Noel’s character somewhat blunted his eventual triumph over fear, making his acceptance of the present less relatable, sweet, and gratifying than it could have been.
Osmosis is an ambitious short unabated by its limitations, smartly tapping on its theme to bolster its narrative. While it slightly wavers in the nitty-gritty of its execution, the emotions supplied by its smart camera work and effective use of the soundtrack are all more than capable at delivering a pointed exploration of the intricacies of nostalgia.
Catch the award-winning short film – together with a collection of other NYFA shorts – for free on HOOQ here.