Films in this Programme
The Asylum (Prapat Jiwarangsan, Thailand)
The Crocodile Creek (Sai Naw Kham, Myanmar)
For Ofelia (Christopher de las Alas, The Philippines)
Scent (Le Bao, Vietnam)
My Father After Dinner (Gladys Ng, Singapore)
Diving into this collection feels a bit like finding your way out of a labyrinth. You know, those quests in which you have to answer some quizzes to get to the next stage, but you never know what is the right answer. Each time you get past a question, there’s another hurdle to cross. And with each hurdle comes more unresolved questions.
But Programme Three consists a tapestry of questions that may or may not have real answers. An unspooling latticework of offerings from different parts of Southeast Asia, the programme challenges beliefs, questions the identity and pushes the envelope of what truly defines a home.
Sometimes we can establish a home at the strangest of places, The Asylum seems to say. This is an unusual piece that pushes the boundaries of what constitutes the proverbial roof over our heads.
As the story unfurls, we see a radio DJ and a young boy, who find an unlikely sanctuary around a mossy pond. We never quite learn about each character’s past, but like stones in a pond, the weight of their murky identities lodges heavily – almost uncomfortably – in the mind.
The Crocodile Creek poses a different question with its anachronistic treatment of an ancient fable, spliced around the dismal fate of an old creek: How far will consumerism encroach upon our lives and our places of livelihood?
The sole documentary in this series of shorts, The Crocodile Creek whispers of a legend about a celestial crocodile, “Nga Moe Yeik”, and how the creek, that borrows its namesake from the legend, is facing a different kind of struggle that threatens its very existence today.
Another kind of existential crisis is explored in For Ofelia, an effervescent tale about a young boy who struggles to fit into the mould of expectations carved by his mother. The main character – an impetuous boy forced to dress up as a girl by his mother – finds himself contending to assert his identity as he navigates between the thresholds of childhood and adulthood.
One of the more light-hearted offerings in this programme, For Ofelia dexterously combines humour and the nostalgia of 1960’s Philippines in its story.
But sometimes, the home does not need to be defined by physical space. Instead, Scent seems to evoke the idea that the company can organically create a sense of belonging.
Scent is a provocative piece about two young girls living on the fringes of society, who find themselves in the same plight and seek comfort in each other. Centered on a rustic delivery house by a river, which houses young pregnant girls, the atmospheric treatment of this piece allows the narrative to skirt the maudlin that we usually come to expect of stories about the marginalized.
Instead, it goes beyond the immediate grit of its subject matter and deftly explores the companionship and intimacy between two girls, who form an alliance in their powerless struggle against an unknown fate.
The final piece in this patchwork of shorts, My Father After Dinner, depicts a setting that is most familiar to me. A heartwarming story featuring a typical Chinese family in Singapore, it describes how the week culminates in a simple family dinner that brings everybody together.
It portrays the minutiae of everyday life from the perspective of a Singaporean father, as ephemeral elements in the household are given a renewed touch of sentimentality. Although it has a familiar premise, the story speaks of a raw truth: we tend to forget the small things that matter, but it is often what matters most that we come back to.
Like a labyrinth, Programme Three is a terrain that needs to be navigated and challenged before it can be understood and conquered. Sometimes difficult and sometimes familiar, the collection raises different themes stemming from the central thread of self-identity – amid the ever-changing definition of home.
On the whole, the programme seems to remind us that it’s easy to get caught up in the experience and fail to see the big picture that will lead you home. We don’t always have the answers, but we should never stop trying.