Sunday, November 30, 2008

I just fell in love with the French!

Someone in France made this. Don't ask me who it was, or why he did it, because I haven't the faintest.

But here it is. I found it on youtube.

And if that French person can prove to me that he did it, I shall send to him the best existing copy of "Mukhsin" dvd which was printed in the Netherlands.

The Dutch being the Dutch, there's even a 24-page booklet in the box.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

That rare, elusive quality they call "charisma".

Charlie Chaplin.jpgp.ramlee.jpgoprah.jpgDR MAHATHIR MOHAMADjagger.jpgnani.jpg

Like the wind, like sunlight, like moonbeam. You cannot capture it between two fingers, you can barely touch it, but it can touch you. And you can see the effect it has on its surroundings.

The pictures you see above are various people who have achieved some measure of fame and admiration around the world. This is not to say that they are all equally accomplished at what they do. Obviously, the great Charlie Chaplin and my beloved Dr.M tower over the rest, in terms of the impact they've had on the world. And the young, fledgling actress Sharifah Amani, my "anak emas", has only just begun her career.

But what they all have is this enigmatic, inexplicable power of attraction called "charisma". You can love them or hate them, but they cannot be ignored.

A few months after Sharifah Amani (Nani) got royally screwed by the Malay press and Rais Yatim for that now infamous award acceptance speech at the FFM, I was searching for an actress with enough charisma to pull off a tough character called Rohani, in what was then to be my next project called "Muallaf".

One evening, I found myself in the grand ballroom of a hotel, attending the wedding dinner of Sharifah Aleya (Leya), Nani's elder sister. One by one, the younger sisters got on stage to dedicate a few words to Leya, wishing her well, and confessing their love for her. It was all very heartwarming, and the bride was visibly moved to tears.

Yana, the youngest, came on first. When she had finished, everyone went, "Awww..."

Leysha, as always, was wise and witty beyond her years.

Finally, it was Nani's turn. Clutching the tail of her glamorous dress, she casually picked up the microphone and surveyed the audience for a few moments, with a menacing grin on her face. There, in attendance, were film luminaries, ministers, dignitaries, tan sris, puan sris, datuks and datins, everyone holding their breath, no doubt recalling that FFM speech she had made, just a few months before. Then Nani began:

"You guys have a lot of guts, letting me hold a microphone again! I bet you're thinking, what the HELL is she going to say now?" The hall rocked with laughter and thunderous applause. I smiled and recalled a judging experience I had in Greece, at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival.

The head of the jury was a Czech named Jiri Menzel, a 70-year old master who won his first Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the age of 28. My fellow judges included Fred Roos, the producer of "The Godfather", "Apocalypse Now", and "Lost In Translation". We were busy deliberating on the candidates for the Best Actress award for that year.

"That actress internalised her role well," someone said. Someone else said, "But that other actress came across like she really researched the character she was playing." Etcetera, etcetera, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Suddenly, a very bored looking Jiri, who had kept well quiet up to that point, suddenly sat up and took a deep breath. Everyone fell silent.

"When you want to award an actor," his voice boomed across the table, "look for one thing, and one thing only. Charisma!"

Now I was back again at that wedding dinner table in Kuala Lumpur. The audience laughter had just died down. I looked at that little girl on stage, that girl I cast as Orked in "Sepet", when she was barely 17. Having started her speech with a bang, she went on to express her sisterly love to Leya in a way that didn't just touch the elder sister, but the whole hall as well.

That's when I knew I had found my Rohani.

Charisma. It's rare and elusive alright. And my "anak emas" has it by the truck loads. Alhamdulillah.

Monday, November 24, 2008

When "Muallaf" won a Special Mention in Tokyo...

Kissing my baby

When "Muallaf" won a Special Mention in Tokyo, some people wrote that this was not something worth celebrating, because it was an insignificant triumph. But I'm not one to discount or dismiss any blessing Allah bestows upon me, however small it may seem to some people.

When "Muallaf" won a Special Mention in Tokyo, I felt vindicated because those very same people once described it as my worst film to date.

When "Muallaf" won a Special Mention in Tokyo, it won in one of my favourite festivals because it was the second one to give me a prize (Best Asian Film for "Sepet" in 2005), and the first to hold a retrospective of my films in 2007.

When "Muallaf" won a Special Mention in Tokyo, it won among stiff competition. And even though it shared the Best Asian-Middle Eastern Special Mention with two other films, those two other films were made by filmmakers I have great respect for -- Jiang Wen and Ann Hui.

When "Muallaf" won a Special Mention in Tokyo, these were the films it was up against:

by Kim Tae-Kyun from Korea

by Jeon Kyu-Hwan from Korea

by Li Dawei from China

by Yoon Seong-Ho from Korea

by Jiang Wen from China

by Pang Ho-Cheung from Hong Kong

by Ann Hui from Hong Kong

by Tom Shu-Yu Lin from Taiwan

by Lee Chi Yuarn from Taiwan

by Liew Seng Tat from Malaysia

by Eric Khoo from Singapore

by Aditya Assarat from Thailand

by Ronaldo M. Bertubin from The Philippines

by Shimit Amin from India

by Mohammed Ali Talebi from Iran

by Seyfi Teoman from Turkey

by Huseyin Karabey from Turkey

by Nadine Labaki from France/Lebanon

by M. Rashid Masharawi from Palestine/Tunisia/Netherlands

When "Muallaf" won a Special Mention in Tokyo, I jumped up and down with joy, muttered "Alhamdulillah" under my breath, and after my solat, pressed my forehead on my prayer mat and thanked God almighty for His generosity.

May I never, EVER be so arrogant as to dismiss His blessings as "small". Na'uzubillah.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"Muallaf" review from John Li of movieXclusive, Singapore.

What her father did

"Every once in a while, it is good to appreciate a film which doesn’t bombard you with explosions, car chases, silly slapstick and over the top computer generated effects. The wham bam of things numb our senses so much, we take these hustle and bustle as part of our lives. So when a film which makes us reflect on our inner selves comes along, we realize the impact it has on our well being.

Malaysian filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad’s fifth feature finally makes its way to our busy city to seek audiences who are willing to make an effort to search deep within themselves to realize the true meaning of forgiveness.

After the Orked trilogy (Sepet, Gubra, Mukhsin) which centers on a Malay girl’s trials and tribulations like her interracial relationships and childhood romances, Ahmad writes another provocative story about two Malay sisters staying away from their violent father.

Just when they thought that things were fine in the small town they were staying in, a Chinese teacher with a secret past comes along. He becomes drawn to the sisters’ charismatic personalities and these three troubled souls will soon find solace in each other and understand the meaning of forgiveness.

One can immediately pick out the religious undercurrents with the protagonists being Malay and Chinese. Being a film made in Malaysia, this will definitely evoke some discussions in its home country. We’ve got a Malay woman and a Chinese man being attracted to each other. We’ve got a young girl who has the strange ability to quote from holy books and ancient scriptures. We’ve got a Malay woman acting like a tomboy and working in a nightclub. If these aren’t enough to trigger controversial discussions in Malaysia’s media, we don’t know what will.

There are several themes and subject matters in the film that will set you thinking, that is, if you're prepared to.

First, because the film is set in Malaysia, there are certain contexts and situations which local audiences may not get. Nuances like cultural practices and body movements may alienate the unfamiliar viewer.

Second, the film deals with heavy handed topics which may not be the best things to think about on a difficult day at work.

But that shouldn’t deter you from making sense of this well written story to recognize that although religion cloaks this movie, it is the universal message that love for others creates opportunities for us to forgive and reconcile with ourselves that matters.

Having worked with the director on her three previous films, lead actress Sharifah Amani is evidently comfortable in her role as the protective elder sister who is determined to make a difference in her life. Her real life younger sister Sharifah Aleysha has natural chemistry with her older sister in the film. Brian Yap plays the Chinese teacher with a quiet reluctance which allows viewers to ponder about his troubled character. Also, watch out for performances by “881 Sister” Yeo Yann Yann as a nightclub girl, Malaysian singer Ning Baizura as a flamboyant stepmother, and also fellow Malaysian filmmaker Ho Yuhang.

While these characters are not glamourous and dolled up personalities, they are a true reflection of this thing we call life."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gasp! Exactly one week before "Muallaf" opens in Singapore, on the 27th of November.

muallaf opening

Before the first opening credits of "Muallaf" appear, before you even hear any sound, these Chinese words fade on, on the extreme right of the screen, quietly, white characters against black.

That's the time my heart started pounding when I saw the film on big screen, for the very first time, at the Pusan International Film Festival in Korea.

Almost throughout the film, my eyes stayed fixed to the screen. Occasionally, my gaze would dart around the cinema theatre, whenever there was the slightest cough or clearing of throat, at the remotest corner of that dark hall.

At the end of the screening, there was applause. I heaved a sigh of relief. (I was told that at the Tokyo International Film Festival, where "Muallaf" won a prize, the applause went on for quite a while.)

Soon, these moments will arrive in Singapore, inshaallah. And my heart starts to pound again, just thinking about it.

May Allah bless our little film. Ameen, ya rabbal aalameen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

If you're in Singapore, please try to catch "Muallaf". But if you're in Kuala Lumpur, please watch this wonderful film below.


Ho Yuhang (my favourite new wave Malaysian film director), Lorna Tee (one of the best producers in Asia), Affandi (my editor), and Effendy (my producer) just saw this powerful sleeper hit.

"Budak Kelantan" is not going to remain on the cinema circuit much longer, so please, please, please catch it soon. It's the brightest spark in Malaysian cinema we've seen in a long time, with an energy that leaves you with a buzz, long after it's over.

Suffice to say that we left Mid-Valley feeling very happy and hopeful about the future of Malaysian cinema.

Welcome, friends, old and new.

yasmin rialto.jpg

Salaam to all who come in peace.

Strange things have been happening to the original "The Storyteller" comment box. You cannot access it, let alone read it.

I have an idea what happened, and who was responsible for it, but all that is by the by. And I forgive him, from the bottom of my heart.

From now on, inshaallah, business will go on as usual in this all-new blog of mine.

Introducing "The Storyteller, Part 2". My world of film, art and poetry appreciation. Welcome to it.