Many of the finest films function as commentary on other forms of art: whether they’re musical biopics (such as Ray or Walk the Line), or literary adaptations, or themselves borrow ideas and techniques from different media, like painting or poetry. Singapore International Film Festival’s 2017 line-up is chock full of such titles—take Ruben Östlund’s The Square for example, a satire of the fine art world. For other films at the festival that demonstrate the power of art and artists, in all their subjective, outspoken, anti-establishment glory, go down this list… and get your tickets soon.
1. Dragonfly Eyes
Internationally acclaimed Chinese installation artist Xu Bing (famous for his art piece “A Book from the Sky”) created a feature-length movie from more than 10,000 hours of real-life CCTV footage and live-stream videos. The result is Dragonfly Eyes, surely the first feature of its kind. After the film’s surreal, intriguing introduction, Xu, a master puppeteer, selects two individuals to attach his strings onto. The story then launches into a romance involving Qing Ting, a former nun-in-training, and Ke Fan, an agricultural technician… though this is injected now and then with other, morbid footage: a plane crash, a suicide, natural disasters and so on. Unlike, say, Edward Snowden, the individuals that Xu has singled out seem more than happy to let themselves be surveilled by Xu and his audiences. The fascinatingly different Dragonfly Eyes was nominated for Golden Leopard at Locarno International Film Festival.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You’re into voyeurism… or you’ve seen Jim Carrey in The Truman Show and wonder how that idea would play out in real life.
2. Song of Granite
Song of Granite is a biopic of the late, legendary Irish sean-nós singer Joe Heaney. We closely follow Heaney’s life from when he was a young lad living in the countryside of Connemara, through to his celebrated musical career in New York. Director Pat Collins tells this story through a combination of re-enactment, actual archived footage and interviews. Song of Granite beautifully represents the essence of Irish folk music, too, as Collins takes the time to showcase numerous traditional Irish songs, especially Heaney’s performances of “The Rocky Road to Dublin” and “The Galway Shawl”. Beyond the soundtrack, the film’s mesmerising black-and-white cinematography is also not to be missed. Song of Granite is more than just a biography; it’s an immersive experience into Irish history and contemporary music culture.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You’re a fan of Joe Heaney, Irish music or Irish culture at large; or to learn about the world of sean-nós (Irish for “old style”) music.
3. The Seen and Unseen
Indonesian director Kamila Andini wowed with her feature debut in 2011, titled The Mirror Never Lies, which garnered global recognition at film festivals like Berlinale and Busan International Film Festival. Her second feature, The Seen and Unseen, puts the spotlight on twins, Tantra (Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena) and Tantri (Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih), the former of whom suffers from a chronic illness. The film teems with the supernatural from start to finish as the twins perform Balinese shadow puppetry, dances and traditional songs. Drawing inspiration from the Balinese idea of “Sekala Niskala”, which gives the film its title, Andini portrays the duality of realism and holism—where the invisible and mystical are as real as the visible. The film made its premiere at Toronto International Film Festival this year.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You are interested in seeing Bali’s rich culture placed into an original and beautifully rendered context by an exciting new artist.
Alongside his thought-provoking stances against local politics and religions, Nelson Carlso de Los Santos Arias reveals an impressive aesthetic vision in his feature debut, Cocote. The director (who hails from the Dominican Republic) shot the film in an uncanny way, playing with cinematic form incessantly: with the changing aspect ratio, scenes alternating between monochrome and colors, subtitles placed at the top of the screen, various chapter breaks, as well as the film’s perfectly calibrated total of 360 shots. At times, the movie takes a documentary approach, adding yet another layer that blurs the lines between fiction and reality. At its most basic level, Cocote follows the story of a gardener who returns to his hometown to attend his father’s burial ceremony. Yet far beyond its plot, this movie conveys a great artistic spirit of freedom and nonconformity.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: What is great art if not a maker pushing the boundaries of form?
5. Mrs. Fang
Wang Bing, one of China’s best-known documentary filmmakers and a familiar face at Venice International Film Festival, returns with a chilling story: It follows the titular Mrs. Fang, an Alzheimer’s-stricken elderly lady, in her ominous final days. The documentary also captures the conversations of Fang’s family members, many of whom nonchalantly talk about themselves at her deathbed, but barely about Mrs. Fang herself. Wang’s close-ups on his subject’s skeletal face are so merciless that at times, you might not be able to help averting your eyes from the screen—her gaze is unnerving, as if she has stared at death itself. Not granted a backstory, Fang is a blank canvas, allowing us to consider our own unknown futures. There is a split second near the close of the film where her one family member accidentally looks at the camera, and his expression says it all.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: Wang is a master in his craft and tackles the idea of death with an unwavering resolve.
The 28th Singapore International Film Festival runs November 23 to December 3, 2017. Get your tickets here.