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Kinship: Recapturing SEA

By: Matthew Yang

The Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) renews its ongoing commitment towards raising the visibility of Southeast Asian cinema continuing to offer both the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition and the Southeast Asian Film Lab. This edition of the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition presents an array of cinematic treats from the Southeast Asia allowing us to recapture the region’s imagination through the idea of kinship.Kinship is an affinity that goes beyond blood relations or even sharing a family name. It is commonly accepted in kinship systems that an extent of creation or selection through nurture and care marks the kind of affinal and conjugal relations associated with kinship. However this only broadly defines it qualitatively. Kinship can also be a complex sense of mutual being that can take form in performative ritual and exchange where participation occurs. Although difficult to define, I find core to its idea could be the mutual possession of being creating an ‘inside’ which perhaps indicates of what counts as close.My idea of kinship takes in the form of a sensual response to memories. The word kinship brings in mind the aromatic smells of my mother’s cooking that wafts from my family’s kitchen into my bedroom. A strong sillage of her chicken curry and baguette that never fails to whet an appetite. A smell that also comes in the form of love, security and assurance. Like this smell, kinship is borne in this year’s selection of shorts where the films and their makers offer varied interpretations, reconfiguring the language of kinship in a Southeast Asian context.

Still from Lola Loleng, Dir. Che Tagyamon

In Che Tagyamon’s Lola Loleng, kinship is rendered through re-imagination from memory and trauma as Tagyamon explores the affinity with her Grandmother. The 21 year old Filipino director speaks of her Grandmother – whom she has never met – and her struggle with dementia building on the memories and accounts of her relatives. The film threads her grandmother’s struggle to recognise her own granddaughter as well as dealing with the remaining memories of her experience during the Japanese occupation which were all playfully rendered into a tender animation brimming with colours.In Freeze, the idea of kinship is offered in multiple perspectives as the film explores its moral answerability. Singapore’s Nelicia Low draws inspiration from her family and her autistic brother to tell a story of an unusual love triangle. The film reveals the story of Hui, an insecure supermarket attendant , who seeks comfort in her autistic brother when her husband is unable to fulfil the love she desires. The film looks at kinship through the actions of mutual being as it unveils the detrimental measures she takes to enjoy something so fundamental.The films bring an intensity of ambivalence where in Lola Loleng, kinship is acted out through re-imagination and memory where questions of its temporality emerges. Tagyamon’s affine with her grandmother becomes a reproduction of existence through the recounts of relatives’ memories and stories. However does it make it any less genuine? Are memories any less real than reality? Perhaps memories has its own temporality? In Freeze, filial care is given a fresh outlook as Hui’s endearment for her autistic brother takes an interesting twist as we see her take on the role of both the carer and the cared for as she looks to her brother for love she yearns for. Beyond this idiomatic form of kinship where she provides care for her brother, we see a form of kinship that takes a performative transaction as she repeatedly asks her brother “Do you love me?”.Despite their different outlooks, both films suggest the greater scales of inclusion when it comes to thinking or rethinking the idea of kinship. It is the configurations of mutual identification that can go beyond the traditional outlook of friendship, family and conjugal kinship. At its core, both films speak of it as an inscribed feeling that lies deep within where it is distinguishable from memory and even death.This year’s selection of the Southeast Asian Short film competition presents a refined specialization of intriguing shorts from the countries close to us not only continuing the genealogy of Southeast Asian at SGIFF but also inviting inquiry to rethink the language of kinship that perhaps might sometimes come as too obvious.