Looking for the most beautiful images at Singapore International Film Festival 2017?
Cinema has often been described as visual poetry. A film’s most breathtaking shots linger longest in our minds after the credits have rolled. For our money, these six titles boast some of the best-crafted images of the year, from sprawling expanses of nature to still observations in abandoned spaces. You won’t regret spending a couple hours basking in their glow.
1. The Song of Scorpions
To call the colours of The Song of Scorpions luscious would be an understatement. Through the eyes of Swiss cinematographers Pietro Zuercher and Carlotta Holy-Steinemann, sunlight bathes the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, India and turns it into an otherworldly setting—one that could not be more fitting for a sensuous tale about a beautiful singer (whose voice is an antidote to scorpion stings) and an ordinary camel trader. This film, steeped in love, loss and revenge, is further elevated by the performances of Indian star Irrfan Khan and Golshifteh Farahani (whose own star is growing, thanks to Jim Jarmusch’s lovely 2016 film Paterson). Director Anup Singh’s third feature film and his biggest project yet might find itself a place in a modern collection of Arabian Nights stories.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You’d enjoy the awe-inspiring scenery that the Indian desert has to offer, juxtaposed against the tender intimacies of Farahani and Khan’s lead characters.
2. The Seen and Unseen
The camera follows its young twin protagonists, Tantri and Tantra, with a gentle, dreamy tenderness in this mystical story. The Seen and Unseen explores the duality of existence, when one twin falls ill after pilfering an egg meant for holy spirits. Director Kamila Andini’s creative inspiration, taken from local Balinese folklore and artistic tradition, shows up in a wayang kulit puppet show staged from behind drawn curtains of a hospital ward. This is the rising Indonesian director’s second feature film (after The Mirror Never Lies), continuing her explorations of how young children negotiate the idea of mortality; it premiered at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival this September.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You like films that walking the fine line between reality and imagination, and are up for a dose of artistic magical realism; you enjoy Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films, such as the acclaimed Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
3. The White Girl
At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, legendary Aussie filmmaker Christopher Doyle was honored with an award in recognition of his illustrious cinematography career. You might be familiar with his work as director of photography for acclaimed directors such as Wong Kar-Wai (In the Mood for Love, Chungking Express), Gus Van Sant (Psycho, Paranoid Park) and Zhang Yimou (Hero); but with The White Girl, Doyle makes a rare directorial outing, taking the wheel alongside newcomer co-director Jenny Suen. The pastel visuals in this nostalgic, dream-like drama accentuate the charm of a washed-out, tiny fishing village in Hong Kong. In this story about an outcast young woman (played by Angela Yuen) and an enigmatic artist, Suen and Doyle touch on the idea of a place as identity: What happens when the new threatens to erase the old?
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: A master cinematographer playing director is always intriguing; you’re one of young star Angela Yuen’s many, many Instagram followers; you’re in the mood for seeing Hong Kong’s old spaces populated by dreamers.
4. Marlina The Murderer in Four Acts
If you, like me, are a fan of Quentin Tarantino, then the opening sequence of Marlina The Murderer in Four Acts might just remind you of the opening sequence of Inglourious Basterds. An unassuming, yet dreaded, arrival of a house guest—what could be more ominous? Yet while buzz-y Indonesian director Mouly Surya takes inspiration from the Western, as does Tarantino, her film exercises arguably greater restraint in its displays of violence, matched with the steely strength of its female protagonists. The cinematic compositions in this film are nearly impeccable: Cinematographer Yunus Pasolang takes full advantage of wide landscape shots to showcase the Indonesian wilderness, and the actors are always perfectly framed for action. This film premiered as the only Southeast Asian film at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight this year, and proves an exciting follow-up to Surya’s well-received 2013 film, What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You want to see the film dubbed the world’s first “Satay Western”, one that subverts gender dynamics to boot; Marlina—and Surya herself—are new kind of badass.
5. Sweet Country
The title of Sweet Country undercuts its bald handling of the themes of injustice and human cruelty: In the harsh Australian outback of the 1920s, an Aboriginal stockman and his wife are go on the run after he is forced to kill a drunk, racist attacker in self-defense. Warwick Thornton took on a double role as director and cinematographer for this film, and his camerawork is masterful—at times circling characters like a predator with his prey; at other times subtly tracking movements for a heightened sense of dread. The technicalities of Sweet Country gain strong support from its cast, with the quietly commanding presence of veteran Sam Neill, and newcomer Hamilton Morris delivering a similarly strong performance.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You’ll be riveted to this thrillingly shot action piece, which also gives a voice and agency to Aboriginal representation.
6. Shuttle Life
Shuttle Life has a beauty that goes beyond its soft, naturalistic visuals—one that taps upon the resilience of the urban poor, especially when they too easily become invisible in the stifling, oppressive bustle of city life. As we follow the lives of young Malaysian man Qiang, his six-year-old sister and their mentally disabled mother, the film feels incredibly human; I found warm echoes of brief, ephemeral moments in films like Edward Yang’s Taipei Story. In scenes where characters are dwarfed by their surroundings, the camera is unflinchingly steady, committed to capturing the cast’s powerful performances. Malaysian director Tan Seng Kiat delivers a strong debut feature; it earned two Taipei Golden Horse Award nominations, including one for Best Cinematography.
WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You’re a fan of quiet, social-realist narratives that celebrate moments of warmth and joy shining through cracks in the darkness.
The 28th Singapore International Film Festival runs November 23 to December 3, 2017. Get your tickets here.