'Leaving Me' by Chew Tee Pao - SIFF Shorts Finalists

Men seem to be like islands. They always seem to have a way of keeping themselves amused and entertained by material, by objects or simply by their own thoughts. The comfort of company is one part of their well-being. Women seem to need some form of co-existence on everything. They want someone else to get involved either in person or in heart. At least, that's what 'Leaving Me' left me with.

In 'Leaving Me', a couple sits in a dimly-lit living room watching TV soap. They are sit a distance apart, suggesting the state of engrossment of the man who is more focussed than his partner on the soap. Wait, it is no ordinary soap, the man's in it. It turns out that he is an actor, who is sucked into a moment of narcissistic self-evaluation, in his watching of himself on screen. His helpless wife tries all ways not to be marginalised but each futile attempt just makes her more defeated than the previous.

Parallel to the insidious drama happening in the living room is an emotionally heightened tussle between a man and his unhappy wife in the soap. Tee Pao elicits an irony in the actor being more subdued in real life compared to the his more dramatic persona in reel life. In the real life situation, his partner is just as hurt as the lady in the soap. And perhaps a grievance that is unspoken and unresolved in the heart is more painful than one is externalised as in the TV soap. In the soap, the girl resorts to pointing a gun at her partner who has cheated her. In the living room, the lady has no recourse for venting her frustration, which makes the TV drama quite a mockery of his real situation.

On a technical note, the living room seemed a little dim for the audience to read the nuances of what is going on. Or perhaps, she should have escaped more often to the kitchen which is better lit! I also felt that the episode seemed a little narratively compressed, that in a very short time, we went from sofa tension to doorway drama when she is packed and wanting to leave. It almost feels like the events were scripted to coincide with the length of the compact TV drama. For a film that rides on the nuances of emotional shifts, the rather standard choice of shots or rather, visual representation of the drama seemed bland or typical. While the idea of a situational parallel puts the film in its own class, the actual emotional journey does not quite take off. Like the 'boxed-up' nature of the TV soap, the portion of real drama was very much served in slices.

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