SeaShorts 2020 Film Festival: Space In Between

Space In Between is a programme curated by Yamashita Koyo at the recently concluded SeaShorts Film Festival that pulls together a selection of short films from the Image Forum Festival 2019 East Asian Competition section. The films deal with memories, personal longings, anger and awkwardness from a different lens. Most of the films here do not follow the typical narrative conventions that we come to expect from the movies. No clear chain of cause and effect, no big conflict resolved by the end. Here, the play of structure, image and sound take prominence to create an experience that only cinema can deliver. 

Splash (2019) Dir. Shen Jie (China)

Splash begins with an image of a pool rendered on screen with a simplistic use of colours that leads to a sense of abstraction and other-worldliness. The sound of a beep echoes, slowly growing louder and louder, the pacing increasing till it becomes a point of chaos– suddenly a cut and we hear the sound of a splash. Like a ticking bomb had suddenly went off. The narrative that Splash wants to conver is not immediately clear, there is no dialogue, no exposition to explain things, just an idea that something destructive has occurred, a lingering trauma deep in the waters of the pool. Splash does not work within the confines of realism, the pool feels insular and detached from the outside, the characters have nothing drawn on their faces to give an impression of distinct facial features, and the sound, a mesh of noises, gasps, and a continuous vibration, stirs the heart. Splash puts the spotlight on interior thoughts and  creates a loud bellowing voice that perhaps, will echo in the mind of its viewers. 

Chiyo (2019) Dir. Shimada Chiemi (Japan, UK)

Chiyo, shot on 16mm film, puts an elderly Japanese woman and the spaces that surround her onto the centrestage. Her back is bent, she leans and pushes a blue mobile chair on wheels to walk. Her life appears mundane and seems to be moving toward the eventual and inevitable. This ephemerality is made prominent; the film fixates on certain images, of fireworks spreading fiery light in the air and dissipating into nothingness, of a fire burning till it is nothing but embers glowing in the dark, and smoke drifting off to the outside and disappearing into the air. Such images are both beautiful and melancholic. Chiyo does not solely remind us of mortality, but it celebrates the fleeting life that we have available. 

Night Horse (2019) Dir. Jeroen Van Der Stock (Japan, Belgium)

As suggested by the ominous title, Night Horse is a nightmarish experience. It appears entirely composed of images from surveillance cameras in the night time, where the absence of diegetic sound along with the distorted clarity of these images frightens. Through the lens of these cameras, our sight becomes inhuman; the capture of shapes, movement, and observation take prominence over the details that make objects and things recognisable. Bulbs of light become overexposed lighting up things in the dark, the smoothness of motion turns to a blur, and living beings become shapes moving bizzarely. A haunting, looming landscape of sound reminiscent of a low growl or groan lingers throughout the film's about-19 minute runtime like a stalker treading on cold prey. Though there are no clear narrative threads, the presence of two figures remain clear in the mind– the figure of the horse seemingly trapped in a stable in the night, and the faceless authoritarian figure behind the camera we see from. Surely a commentary is being made on the nature of surveillance within our current society. All the unease, entrapment, sense of the inhumane and the impersonal are real in the film, but it might as well be a nightmare. 

Nothing Pleases like Maltesers (2019), Dir. Sasa Wong Hiu Ching (Hong Kong)

Maltesers are harmless round spherical balls of chocolate with malted milk within, the packaging is eye catchingly red, and the font, with it’s rounded edges appear adorable and bubbly. However, the film Nothing Pleases like Maltesers gives no impression of the candy it name-drops in the title. In the film, we follow four characters whose lives are not bundles of joy. Each of them face an oppression, a difficulty. Despite this, the characters continue to endure them and live through them. Director Sasa Wong chooses to refrain from passing judgement on her characters. Instead she takes a more observational approach. Their stoic faces, and the inner turmoil that bubbles from beneath is clear to see, but when given no attention, these nuances are left unnoticed. Nothing Pleases like Maltesers gives a voice that they otherwise might not have, and their inner discomforts and mini-tragedies are given light. 

Last Year When the Train Passed (2018), Dir Huang Pang Chuan (France)

The train travels quickly along the rails. Through the window, the view outside is a complete blur, but through the careful eye of a camera, what's blurred can become clear for a brief moment, and time is captured. Last Year When the Train Passed is a documentary film that meditates on the passage of time and memory. Director Huang Pang Chuan visits the houses that he had photographed on a train a year ago and interviews the residents. He asks a relatively mundane, but often unasked question - if they can remember what happened a year before when the photograph had been taken. The answers vary. One had moved away, some responded that they can’t remember, and one had passed away. One year may not seem like that long a time, especially when compared to the many years of a human life span. But in a single year, things can change, or be transformed very easily. Still, Last Year When the Train Passed shows us that even if things are forgotten, and things have changed, the images remain. The images of the homes captured from a year ago, the image of the home left without a resident, the images of the poetics of the world, the sway of ash and paper in the wind, the sunlight as it gleams on the water, the sound of water churning on the water wheel. They are all captivating. 

Written by Timothy Ong
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