One thing that never seems to lose its shimmer of mysticism is perhaps the innate human ability to translate scenes of everyday life into something significant and therefore worthy of being attached to. It is natural to assign sentimental value based off our own memories to a particular location such as an ordinary park bench or the trees that line an expressway. Perhaps this is our unique way of making the most out of life and weaving our own stories into an intricate ecosystem of memories. The urge to capture these locations (and therefore, their memories/experiences) is often expressed through the usage of film. Maybe, film allows us to wholly represent the world as it was.
An unending fascination with this innate human ability has allowed us Youth Jury and Critics Programme participants to comprehend the beauty of Nelson Yeo’s 5 Trees (2017) a little better. This film engages with the specific memories and emotions that come almost instinctively to audiences as they watch the film. Aided by the gloomy reminiscent tone evoked by black-and-white imagery, this film is a poetic gesture to reclaim the sentimentality we refuse to acknowledge, hidden under shells of skepticism. This, however, does not mean that the film is completely devoid of cynicism or realism. In the film, Yeo uses the unconventional perspective of an ordinary stray cat to nonchalantly point out that these memories we precariously associate with locations and space may well be romanticised in retrospect.
It is also important to consider why this relationship between locations and memories is crucial in our understanding of history, whether national or personal. In an interview, experimental local filmmaker Toh Hun Peng commented that “lived (real or actual) histories of a location can potentially shed light on the reading of a narrative film shot at that particular location”. Therefore, this is a complex process of reflection we experience as location and memory intertwine in film’s narrative: we understand our specific memories better by first understanding the filmmaker’s portrayal of the location, and this filmmaker’s portrayal is understood by the unique history surrounding it.
Film, as an artform, aids our understanding of locations and the memories associated with it. To quote Hun Peng once more, “Cinema offers a different method. And what makes it different could be its ability to document motion and duration. The movement of things.” Film locates the human experience by displaying life revolving around the space for audiences to relate, and even associate their own stories and personal histories to.
5 Trees runs a course that does more than telling the familiar story of love found and love lost. Instead, the careful engagement of locations that are now mostly forgotten evokes a specific nostalgia that the protagonists experience and a general nostalgia for the past that the real-time audience of the film experiences. Films have always played a quintessential role of delivering to the audience the beauty of the human experience This film too captures the lamented brevity of life and transforms it into a work of art.
The constant and therefore inevitable association of specific locations and film definitely calls for a deeper appreciation and acknowledgement of the same. The personal video essay at the start of this article therefore serves as a collection of locations that might even inspire you, the viewer, to associate these locations with any memories and experiences of once-familiar places, literally creating our own ‘essay’ of personal experiences to the visuals. This innate human ability which is brought out by the medium of film reminds us of our own unique narratives and differences in perspectives: it becomes the glue that binds us all together. Our own identity is and will always be embedded in the memories we place on such locations, however romanticised they may seem.