329 (Tinnawat Chankloi, Thailand)
On Stopping the Rain (Aditya Ahmad, Indonesia)
Excerpts (Justin Pascua, The Philippines)
Kekasih (Diffan Sina Norman, Malaysia)
A Man For All Seasons (Soe Moe Aung, Myanmar)
If Green Day didn’t provide closure to that question with their titular anthem, the SEA Shorts Programme 4 (SSP4) comes close. Summarily, it’s a compelling blend of farce and poignancy demonstrating that the very monster is commonly he who is closest to you: yourself. From the gleefully irreverent Kekasih, to the quietly moving A Man For All Seasons, these talented directors illustrate the concept of demons, and how they are nearer than you think.
Indeed, we’ve all fought our demons, this collection seems to say, and they are universal. A transposition of our collective modern worries – all demographics covered! – into a myriad of cultures. In particular, I single out the eternal struggle with the self: exactly who am I?, and, just how have I come to be? Grand concerns, tackled masterfully by a team of young, insightful directors.
Bleakly attempting an answer is collection-opener 329, Tinnawat Changkloi’s stark dystopian exposition of a schoolyard Orwellian fantasy from the eyes of an unbeliever. It’s a farcically frightening, Boyle-like look into young minds who have bought into the Marxist ideology, and the one boy trapped in this oblivion. Changkloi, in comedic blackness, updates the Kim Jong-il puppet joke with a balloonimal looking side-splittingly similar to the dictator’s rotund son.
Perhaps our own issues aren’t that intense, but deep in the hollow recesses of our minds, that last bastion of good ol’ sense, we just know we’re all downright insane. Maybe we fancy ourselves mad scientists. Diffan Sina Norman’s protagonist in Kekasih does. As though ingesting a pill you probably shouldn’t have on hindsight, Norman conjures up innately Malaysian folklore in an MGMT-esque psychedelic trip, fulfilling the requisite blood/gore component of the programme. Added bonus: the occasional anthropomorphic chicken. I needn’t say more.
But really, you argue, we’re definitely more tame; our demons more gently cynical. In keeping with universality, this collection warmly reminds that those problems at work you deem small aren’t just guilty first-world by-products. Colleague stole your lunch? A Man For All Season‘s Han Shwe can relate. Despite appearing as the stoic, omniscient patriarch of his Burmese village family, he rather hilariously incongruently grooms an off-key, hapless little choir of Aung San Syu Kii supporters on the side. But through all communal tribulations, like all family heads, his jaded but headstrong wife and he laugh it off with effable sarcasm and a tinge of rue, proving that inhabiting the forests of the world are families just like ours.
Heavier questions are tackled, too. Those little moments of flurry when we wonder why our lives are so unfair? Aditya Ahmad’s protagonist wonders the same in On Stopping the Rain. Framed by the telling of an old superstition, Ahmad poignantly explores, through a child’s navigation of a metaphor-laden sociopolitical landscape, her sense of jadedness emerging from a cocoon of initially earnest optimism that seems to say: if I will hard enough, Mother Nature will – nay, must – heed my call.
And then there are those pictures that hit ever so close to home: ennui and listlessness in a marriage, viewed through the tired lens of a 16mm camera in Justin Pascua’s Excerpts. Pascua convincingly manipulates the well-worn form itself to be a metaphor underscoring how the relationship within the film has turned sourly quotidian.
While SSP4’s directors define the psychological landscape as amalgamations ranging from uncomplicatedly halcyon to downright bizarre, their films agree on a singular narrative philosophy: that to simply live makes one a complex microcosm. Despite most of their initially quaint settings, all is certainly not idyll in the suburban countryside. Yet, it’s clear the directors aim not to impose opinions, but rather to express empathy across cultures. This programme watches as a congelation of worldly issues, desires, pain, all morphed into a 90-minute fevered dreamscape.