LASALLE Show 2014: Invitation to Avant Premiere (20 May 2014) Part 1
Family Recipe and Farewell Summer
Numerous film industry members graced the event , to name some that we manage to catch a glimpse of were directors Wee Li Lin and Lilian Wang whom have been strong supporters of young talents from Lasalle film school. I apologize if i missed anyone as i was personally catching up with past mentors and esteemed previous classmates.
Vannesa Sim’s Family Recipe is a clear-eyed documentary in which she revisits her late mother Celia Kang's archive of handwritten recipes and cooking journals. 12 years after Kang's death, Sim has combined interviews with family members and grainy slide projection-style montages in an exploration of her own identity in relation to, and independent of, her mother's.
The film refreshingly stays focused on Kang's personality, talents and relationships, and not the details of her illness, thus not falling into the trap of sentimentality, which could have been an unfortunate possibility given the use of nostalgia-evoking flashback scenes. The slightly jerky segments, accompanied by the whirring sound we have come to associate with an old-school projector, are rather an overused aesthetic these days. More revealing and insightful are, in fact, the soundbites from Kang's relatives.
Sim's subjects, in particular Kang's sister, and Kang's husband, are honest and insightful. The former candidly speaks about the challenging aspects of her sister's personality—her perfectionism, which she often imposed on others, her inability to let things go—while the latter at one point addresses Sim directly, encouraging her to grow without feeling an obligation to be exactly like her mother. We get the sense of a close-knit family that has coped with a loved one's death by looking out for and supporting one another, in particular Kang's youngest daughter Sim. This sense of unity is further suggested by shots of the family gathered for a casual meal; the camera pans across steaming pots of food, zooms in on plates of colourful desserts. The scene is not idealistic; it simply is what it is.
The narrative of a cherished (and often female) family member who united a family with her cooking prowess is not a new one, and Family Recipe's visuals are not always very polished. All the same, Sim deserves credit for her courage in openly showcasing her quest to fully become her own person, and for doing so through a film that is ultimately optimistic and never maudlin.
Farewell Summer, winner of the Cathay Photo Award for Best Fiction Film, tells the story of a small family that is forced to “deal with the plans that awaits (sic) them instead of the ones they have in mind*” when the ailing grandmother is brought home to stay with them indefinitely. In some ways, the film almost appears to have drawn inspiration from Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo, from the familiar setting of a working-class Singaporean family living in an HDB flat, to its dreamy, seemingly lonesome schoolboy protagonist Han, to the aesthetics: the protagonists appear in spare environments (walking under an overhead MRT track, gazing at a wide canal flanked by greenery, all in companionable near-silence) seemingly devoid of the dense human traffic that pervades most of our country.
On the one hand, the similarities are not surprising; surely such stories are told, and it is important that they are, because they are the authentic, lived experiences of many Singaporeans. On the other hand, Farewell Summer seems a tad too reliant on visual choices to establish a mood, lacking confidence in the strength of its three main characters—boy, mother and grandmother—who are all well-played by their respective actors. The film’s strongest scenes are the ones infused with a quiet, unexpected humor, especially coming from the good-natured grandmother, who is not cowed by her frailty, forgoing surgery, eschewing the doctor’s recommended dietary restrictions for fried foods instead and making her grandson, whom she dotes upon, her accomplice in outings to escape the confines of the family’s flat.
While the family’s harmonious adjustment to their new circumstances is not unbelievable, it seems almost too free of conflict, given the initial set-up of a young boy, Han, who is promised a trip to Genting Highlands should he do well in his exams. While he does not appear resentful, Han conveys to his mother that his classmates are set for more exotic locales like Japan; the clear implication is that Malaysia is what they can do for now. At 19 minutes’ running time, there is sufficient room in Farewell Summer for exploration of Han’s disappointment when the travel plans fall through. Neither does his ostensibly single mother lose her calm at all. We have been rooting for these characters, but they may not get the ending they deserve