Review: The Seen and Unseen // Sekala Niskala (2017)

The Seen And Unseen is a film that lulls you into a dreamlike state you will find hard to get out off even when the credits are rolling. The film is charming with its use of magic realism – I was naturally drawn to its unexplained narrative – the way Bali charms Singaporeans to visit its land every other weekend.
Except, Javanese director Kamila Andini transports you into a subliminal space of constant juxtaposition – day and night, twins apart, reality and dreams – throughout the runtime of slightly over an hour.  
Set in a rural village of Bali, 10-year old Tantra is unconscious and leaving his twin sister Tantri behind, due to an illness. Their names are gendered versions of one another, already establishing a deeper, hypnotic ying-yang element of duality to the characters. 
When night comes about and under the guidance of the moon, he would wake from deep slumber to play with his sister, until the sun rises. An exploration of dualities and the awakening of magic with cultural significance, audience members will sit through a journey of visuals that speak words of the heart.
The film is stunning in visuals, especially in the dreamlike state. With the use of the moon’s glow, large fields and soft focus, the sense of surrealism is enhanced. These elements also hint to the audience to suspend one’s imagination and just go with the flow. I particularly enjoyed the use of the children ensemble that stays silent throughout but is so powerful in their presence.
There is just something about a child’s innocence and unquestioning nature that delivers. 
Be it observing behind tall grass or rolling across the hospital floor in a one take shot, the children ensemble stole the show; playing a huge role in building up the magical quality all the way towards the end.

The use of nature and its environment is a wonderful choice as well. Bringing connections to the earth in many moments, this is one thread that binds the entire film together. Besides just the obvious rural surroundings and the envy of their vast land, a memorable moment in the film is when Tantri uses the dye of flowers to transform herself into a fighting rooster does the same to Tantra.
Just the act of painting and using natural dye struck me as poetic; hinting that perhaps life begins and ends with the earth itself.

Though the film’s run time is relatively short in comparison to most films out there, The Seen And Unseen came across as a tad too long. The scenes felt like they were mostly of similar length and the rhythm of the scenes consistent. Maybe if the pacing of the scenes varied a little bit more from one another, this would no longer be the case.
Despite this, The Seen And Unseen is a beautiful storytelling of existence, love and loss that everyone will be able to relate to – transcending dialogue and languages. The film was in competition in the Asian Features category of the 28th Singapore International Film Festival.

Written by Dawn Teo

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