This is part of a two-part commentary on Singaporean short, My Father After Dinner by Gladys Ng.
My Father After Dinner is Ng’s sophomore film. Her previous work, Ying & Summer, was nominated for Best Fiction, Best Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Performance at the 4th Singapore Short Film Awards.
My Father After Dinner follows an old security guard and his emotional journey in anticipating the return of his married daughter and her family for dinner. It attempts to be sentimental, or is what may be defined as a slice of life/social-realist film. However, My Father after Dinner fails to enrich any emotional experience. The whole premise of the father being alone and children not spending enough time with their parents while their parents sacrifice (老爸 always eating the leftover food from the previous day and giving the best for his children) has been overtly discussed – especially in Singapore – and offers no new perspective or angle. We grow up and have our own lives to lead and naturally distance ourselves from our parents. This is a fact of life; everyone goes through it. The filmmaker could have used the same concept and executed a more engaging story. She could have questioned and explored why it is hard for an Asian family to part with their parents, or even play up the already subtly planted jealousy between the Sister character and Ying.
I personally believe that a good sentimental film will involve a certain level of depth in terms of emotions, morals and ideology. That while the average moviegoer might not appreciate, someone who makes the effort to understand and dissect the film might take something fresh away. Some might argue that My Father after Dinner is a film depicting a slice of life/social realism, but I feel that such films are generally very emotional as they bring out the hard & mostly sad truths about life. Look no further than Tony Bui’s Three Seasons and Vittorio de Sica’s Bicycle Thief and Umberto D. as good examples. These films also tie in with the social context of the place, which is part of what makes them work. With that in mind, I feel that My Father after Dinner does not bring out any emotion and the social context in which the film is set in does not strike an interest with the audience.
My Father after Dinner portrays a natural course of life which is nothing too out of the ordinary. There is an attempt, I believe, to design backstories that explain the characters to a better extent. The filmmaker employs amateurish Kuleshov effect, with shots like cutting from Ying sleeping to the bed to a duo of cameras and a ‘Hollywood slate’, to imply Ying’s odd working hours as a filmmaker. Is there a tinge of the director’s voice? Probably. Does it contribute in any way to the topic of parental love and distancing? I do not believe so. Despite the shortcomings, My Father after Dinner possesses very naturalistic dialogue; one you will hear if you poke your ears to your neighbour’s house, albeit nothing that will keep you at the edge of your seats.
Film is such a subjective medium and everyone has his or her own opinion about it, which is the beauty and what makes the film-going experience a very personal one. With that, I urge all to watch the film with an open mind, and who knows you might actually think of the film a total opposite from me.
With that, I would like to end this piece with a question:
Is this film a slice of life or is it truly a Shred of Life?