'Dirty Bitch' by Sun Koh - SIFF Singapore Panorama 2

My disclaimer to this write up is that I think I need to watch 'Dirty Bitch' again. There were too many backstories and pretext to it that I didn't really get the hang of the supposed 'Bitch' in the story. Having said that, it was my favourite of the Singapore Panorama 2 - a real mish-mash of works though many centred around some form of madness.

'Dirty Bitch' was a lot of madness but in an orchestrated kind of way. Madness because of the violent reflexes and dramatic excesses. But orchestrated because of a certain precedent it was trying to follow (which I knew because of the context under which 'Dirty Bitch' was made. The Rotterdam International Film Festival has invited Sun among a few other Asian filmmakers to make a film tribute to a film master. So it was Claire Denis in Sun's case and her inspiration came from Nenette et Boni, apparently an graphically violent film. Here is a summary of its story to do some of the talking for me...

19 year old Boni lives alone in the Marseilles flat he inherited from his mother and makes a living working on a pizza stall. To break the routine of his humdrum life, he mixes with arms traffickers and fantasises about the woman who runs a baker’s shop. One day, Boni’s 15 year old sister Nénette appears out of the blue and says she is pregnant. Boni has not seen his sister for years, since his parents separated, and is reluctant to let her move in with him. Gradually, Boni develops an affection for his younger sister and her unborn baby, not realising that Nénette has no wish to keep the baby...

In a cluttered HDB flat, under the roving eyes of a young man (who claims to be a cop) and guided by his 'colourful' (language) narration(not always in tandem with the visuals), we are led into an weird struggle between him and an underaged pregnant girl who seems to also pregnant with a lot of rage. Their mental fantasies intersperse, with each one trying to mutilate the other sexually and physically. Providing an almost juctapostional kind of contrast to the mayhem is the rabbit motif. Apart from a white rabbit wiggling its way around the house, our 'Dirty Bitch' has a pair of rabbit slippers too. And almost like a kind of violation later, the clean white rabbit furs are splattered with curd-like red blood. It's a mouthful to desribe the journey so far but its freeness of form (naaratively) was a very liberating experience for the audience.

The abortion portion offered yet another surprise - a musical segment. And rightly cast, Loretta Chen makes an authoritative presence enough to compete with Serene Chen's grasp of the complex titular character. The only pity is we do not get to hear her talk too much otherwise, it wouold be quite a treat to heat her 'whip-of-a-tongue' do her job. Instead, she lip-synches to a French song, which I suppose might be taken fromn Nenette et Boni. And I felt perhaps this is part that could alienate some audience. And it's also hilarious how out HDB 'Nenette' can suddenly sing in French. Speaking of language, the guy's Mandarin narration sounds also too refined and mis-matched for its content. Maybe it's the Mandarin accent, or should it have been Hokkien? Or perhaps even English in a proper manner (to sound like its from a third voice) because of the very Western overtones in the content of the narration.

Finally, I thought the film left the audience with a little subversion to take home. 'Dirty Bitch' after the madness decides to apply for a job. In a an empty lecture theatre sit a panel of 3 corporate animals, all looking stern and judging. But the uneasy silence does not daunt our 'bitch' for she is determined to get something out of it... until, some kind of hell breaks loose the panel starts boozing and dancing. Hovering betweem a sardonic kind of humour and a sense of resignation, the film seems to end with a message, surprisingly (after its randomness), for her and for us.

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