Sunday, November 23, 2008
"Muallaf" review from John Li of movieXclusive, Singapore.
"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."