@SGIFF 2015: Review - The House by the Bamboo Grove

Set in director Alvin B. Yapan’s hometown of Baao, The House by the Bamboo Grove resembles an abstract painting of nature and human in a single canvas, seemingly idyllic yet deeply perplexing.

Michelle is a recluse who devotes most of her time to traditional embroidery, living in her beloved bamboo house even as her parents move away and the entire world moves on. The film endeavours to portray the house – and the items in it – as objects that stand by a life of their own. When a pair of scissors disappears, Michelle thinks it is telling her to stay; as bamboo rafts float along the river, we get a sense that it is beckoning us somewhere.

The connection that Michelle feels towards her surroundings is somewhat incomprehensible to the ordinary man. Just like how she loves the bamboo house, the house makes love to her – literally, in a bizarre masturbation scene where ferns envelope (embrace) her body. It is a connection that is intimate, but also bordering on obsessive and insane. Conceivably, this mystical duality is where the film attempts to summon its dramatic tension; the graceful motion of pulling thread is juxtaposed against the decisive slaughter of a chicken, the chatter of children interspersed with the sinister hammering of wood. Even Michelle’s thoughts echo with a split personality.

This latent tension intensifies when other humans “invade” her space, evidently so when Larry, a documentary filmmaker pays a visit. More of Michelle’s peculiar dreams play out in vignettes, a particularly traumatizing one of being violated by Larry. Interestingly, this resembles an insidious critique on documentary filmmaking and its dangers of exploitation.

The House by the Bamboo Grove is an ambitious film, in that it challenges its audience to closely observe the interactions between humans and objects (and not merely watch the actors). That particular stone in focus, the mechanical movement of an ant, the spinning beetle tied on a string. As the universes of random items, insects and vegetation interweave, the film suggests an alternate way of living. It does not attempt to always make sense; it simply presents (wo)man and his attachment to our environment as it is.

The film is a courageous venture by Yapan to explore the concept of vitality of life around us, but unfortunately, its lack of narrative clarity and haphazard pacing makes the film a tad laborious to watch.

Review by Amelia Tan

This review is part of the Asian Feature Film Competition at the Singapore International Film Festival 2015. Read more about the film here.

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