Bedtime Chatter on Hearty Films from Civic-Life Part 4

Over the last few days, many people have been tuning into the Civic Life website by the British Council to check up on the Top 20 entries in the 'Home is where the Heart is' competition. SINdie could not resist 'playing God' a little with our review of the 20 films vying for the top prize. So here our 'critical analysis' of the films. We have also created a little rating system as well. So the films are rated in the following 5-point scales in this order:

Is it creative?
Does it engage you emotionally?
Impressive technicals?
The X-factor

Dhoby Shop from maddy on Vimeo.

Jeremy (J): Dhoby Shop is a sweet, homely film, appearing like an Indian take on Royston Tan sentimentalism. It's 2.5, 4, 3.5, 3.5 for me.

Alvin (A): To me, it'll be 3, 4, 3, 4.

J: Sounds like it's one of your favourites

A: Not really, I just think it executed its ideas really well. Particularly its sentiments on the age-old traditions. And the narrator's ideas of its continued place in his heart even with modernization and his own study plans.

J: What struck me most about the film was when the camera zoomed in on the impeccably ironed sheets of cloth…They look like sheets of paper

A: Yes agree with that... it struck a chord with me too. The immaculate folds just seems to bring out the point that some things are worth preserving...I like how he links that to his own plans and ideologies

J: It's a visual moment worth a thousand words

A: Yup.

The Neighbourhood Shops are Where the Heart Is from edwin s on Vimeo.

J: The next film has the longest title in the Top 20. There is a lot going into it as well. Mixed bag of issues and undertones.

A: Yup, doing it in a fresh take as well through animations and metaphors. I rate it 4, 2.5, 4, 4. (pause) Would have to say the stand-out factor for me was more the execution than the narrative itself though.

J: 2.5 for obvious reasons! It has a deliberate dead-pan style of narrating story, a very tongue-in-cheek brand of satire. The plot is actually very simple and linear. It just puts a Singapore social issue into a make-believe context and gives it an entertaining twist. It's a 4.5, 3, 5, 4.5 for me. (pause) In fact, it is one of my most memorable pieces. Creativity almost gets a 5 from me except that....

A: ?

J: I saw a similar concept in another short film… deadpan style with a bit of vocal swagger and simplistic animation like this.

A: Perhaps due to the narrator not sounding local, I'm just wondering if the take on matters is a little skewed due to the fact that he sees elements of Singapore culture that typically evade the rest of us. ie. how the fusion of foreign influences "dampen" the existing ideologies, comfort and culture..

J: I don’t think it evades us. Does it? There had been so much debate about the overflowing of foreigners in Singapore and how it is usurping our claim to the economic and social pie…(pause) Anyway, it must be applauded for being different. Is it one of your favourites?

A: Yes, in terms of its execution and like you say, its out-of-the-box take.

Where my heart was from Stephane Lasserre on Vimeo.

J: Where my Heart Was is a bit of a strangely structured film its mix of being poetic and plain-speaking at the same time.

A: Yes, to be honest it didn't quite come off for me. How do you rate it?

J: 1.5, 2, 2.5, 2.

A: Mine is 2.5, 2, 2.5, 2.5. I see the sentiments are similar. I guess the key missing element is engagement with viewers' empathy on the subject, at least with me. What are your gripes about it?

J: I think the filmmaker cannot decide what he wants - to document an event? to wax lyrical about a happening? a visual tour of concrete textures and shapes? It's all mashed into one.

A: Drawing on the synopsis, I think it's supposed to be a contemplative on collective condo sales in Singapore. But honestly I feel the subject theme itself is a hurdle to engaging any kind of emotions or accessibility. (pause) And the supposed metaphorical scenes and climactic scores just serve to confuse the viewer more, like you said.

J: You hit it right on the nail... It is really a condo sales theme in disguise. (long pause)

I feel that's the challenge of the cinematic language. Many people draw inspiration from daily affairs that they see or read in the papers. But when creating a film out of it, it needs visual and narrative translation. (pause) Watching this film is like seeing those 'word for word' Chinese to English translations in movies.

A: True, and perhaps a need for a greater sense of what the film needs to elicit from the viewer.

J: It's like how do you articulate 7% goods and services tax in a cinematic way?

Portsdown Road from Ashish Ravinran on Vimeo.

A: Moving on, I have to put 'Portsdown Road' as another worthy gem in the competition.

J: Yes, it is different and not in a deliberate or unnatural way

A: The way the filmmaker fuses different elements, from dialogue to old photographs to moving shots, in piecing together his scrapbook of memories works a certain magic. It’s a 4, 4, 4.5, 4.5 for me.

J: You know, in seeking to start some healthy debate out of this dialogue, I think we ended up agreeing on so many points. And I feel it just proves that the fundamentals of what makes a good film are universal and objective

A: Well I guess perhaps it's because essentially these are just 90-second works, which come to think of it, has little middle ground. It either works for or against the filmmakers. It's as if they have to make an impression. Or simply not.

J: That's an excellent point! (pause) Mine is a 4, 4.5, 3.5, 5. A case of the sum being more than its parts. (pause) I really like how underlying the whole strangeness of the photo-vocal account juxtaposition, is a progression towards something…while being transported by the photos into a sepia-tinged 70s, you are also guessing that something will be revealed at the end…which was the grown up son manning the camera. A nice poignant closure.

A: Yes, though I have to say that some parts in the beginning did elude me – i.e. the dialogue implying the lack of photos documenting his growing-up years...but the old photos shown later.

J: To be honest, there were lots of subtle references in the narration, I did not pay attention enough to notice the details.

A: Perhaps like you said, it's a case of the sum being more than its details. Must say the use of bubbles really worked a metaphorical and cinematic magic though, especially in the ending scene.

J: That's why I feel filmmakers do not necessarily try to justify every visual element they put in a film. The audience will find themselves a meaning somehow

A: True.

The Queenstown Secret from Anuj Gulati on Vimeo.

A: 'The Queenstown Secret' seems an interesting one. Intriguing in its seeming intention to reveal something in the closet but not quite saying what. How did you find it?

J: I liked all of it, its baffling quality, its tenderness, its whimsical quality. It gets a 4, 4.5, 2.5, 4 from me.

A: 3.5, 2.5, 3, 3.5.

J: Big difference between how you and I 'feel' about it. I happen to think it stirs my imagination and massages my memory.

A: I think baffling is the best word for me to describe it. Not to say it doesn't work, it does put you in the mode of its contemplative nature and press you to unearth more. Sounds like it engaged you emotionally. How so?

J: I liked how it drew upon the actor's nuanced acting and the simplicity of the plot. The boy represents some kind of fragment of her past, something she yearns for and chases only to know it could only keep her company for a fleeting moment. Memories... that's what they, fleeting... and always sweet for as long as they last. (pause) And why does it not do anything for you emotionally?

A: It's probably because its seemingly esoteric meaning continues to elude me more than anything else. Nevertheless the intrigue that there is something more to it leaves a poignant impression. It was interesting how the transition of the girl's life was managed, that even though one may not get the gist of the film, you sense there's an underlying theme of coming out of the crossroads she finds herself in.

J: Question for you: in all 20 films, did any of the locations/places hold special meaning for you?

A: (Contemplates for a long time) I would say probably Little India in 'When the day begins..' and East Coast Park in 'Small Paradise'

J: Why?

A: In both places it triggers a sense of the familiar, but yet there are so many unseen elements and unfelt emotions.. until these 2 filmmakers brought it out.

J: Wanna guess what's mine?

A: Sounded like one was The Queenstown Secret...and the other, Miniature Town: Potong Pasir?

J: Haha, your 6th sense is good. You got one right. It's Queenstown and the playground. I shall make no secret that I used to pass by this playground as a kid and a teen. (pause) My family always makes regular trips to the Queenstown market for the famous Chicken Rice and I always remember my Dad playing The Beatles in the car en-route to Queenstown.

A: Wow sepia memories...

J: Not exactly sepia, it was the late 80s. It was something I had a fondness for before the school week starts again. And there are many times my parents would be doing grocery shopping in the NTUC Fairprice supermarket and I would wait outside staring at the playground...

Here are parts 1, 2 and 3.
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