Since its start in 1987, the Singapore International Film Festival has become a key regional film event, despite being held in a city state that produces only a handful of feature films annually.
As SGIFF executive director Yuni Hadi explained to me in an interview at the 28th edition, held from Nov. 23 to Dec. 3, the festival not only screens films from Southeast Asia, but also serves as a training-networking nexus for local filmmakers. “We’re about community and sharing,” she said.
While the world was well represented on the program, I was more interested in seeing regional films, beginning with the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition, a section of 15 shorts by young directors.
One highlight was “The Malediction” by Indonesian critic-turned-director Makbul Mubarak about a well-off middle-aged man who takes a second wife ostensibly out of Islamic charity — she is a poor, if young and attractive, widow. His first wife, however, suspects his true motives are less than righteous. In the end the women he has spurned, insulted or lusted after turn the tables on him, as a goddess in a painting comes to life — and leads a surreal comic rebellion that recalls the harem scene in Federico Fellini’s “8½.”
Another discovery was Indonesian director Mouly Surya’s “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts,” which screened in the SGIFF Asian Vision section. Billed as the first “Satay Western” for the Indonesian skewered-meat dish, this picaresque female revenge pic features a score inspired by Ennio Morricone, but is no mere parody. Instead, it unfolds in a distinctly Indonesian landscape (if one unfamiliar to most foreigners) from an unabashedly feminist point of view.
Also in the same section was “Flower in the Pocket,” Malaysian director Liew Seng Tat’s 2007 drama about two young boys getting into various kinds of trouble, at school and on the streets, while their single dad struggles to make a living as a mannequin maker. Both graphically realistic and warmly comic, this modern classic is another reason why Southeast Asian cinema has become one to watch.