Birthday by Betrand Lee, Locust by Victric Thng & While You Sleep by Eva Tang – Three Singapore Shorts
December 11, 2010 § Leave a comment
I dedicate the closing of my 50 films project with three shorts of nostalgia from distinctively different styles and stories.
It came as quite an apt epiphany, but on my last 3 films I came to realize that many films functioned on the notion of ‘What If?’ What if this happened instead? What if things turned out differently? What if we could return to the past? What if we can’t? What do we do?
I came to realize that cinema, apart from existing to tell us about something very wrong (Pedro Costa), also serves as a medium of nostalgia. Because cinema is a medium largely shaped by the technological forces surrounding it, things in cinema come and go. I think a lot of this reflects back on the three shorts mentioned, and on life itself.
In Birthday, a young couple revisits old spots and hideouts they used to spend time together before they were shackled by the chains of work and family. The film is highly stylized in a Wong Kar Wai-ian aesthetic.
Similarly in Locust, the narrator makes a film with minimal WS of a crowded, public walkway as he reminisces about a love once found, but now lost.
Of the three, Eva Tang’s While You Sleep stood out as my favourite film in the entire Singapore Shorts collection, largely because of its disparate and sparse storytelling style and form. The influence from Ozu, largely in the film’s concern with the family and the use of ellipses, is profound.
Through the course of this project, I have come to appreciate the simple technique of narrative ellipses in ways more than one. While I was showering before writing this final entry, it occurred to me that ellipses were essential gaps, empty spaces. It reminded me of the horse galloping spool device you showed us in class, and it was a lesson on movement that I think I will remember for life. I thought about spaces and gaps persistently since then, because I can’t seem to grasp its meaning entirely. I seem to have been affected with the Haiku syndrome.
Thus, I fell back on my emotions and impressions, and asked myself about the effect that the ellipses in While You Sleep had in me. On my first viewing, I almost missed out the first major ellipses or jump separating the family’s move into their new home, and the scene at the hospital right after the mother comments about the nostalgia of the grandfather’s mirror. The effect, I realized, was that of emptiness. The ellipses had presented me with the consequence without showing me the process of how and why it arrived at the current state that it is now. There was profound emptiness in this gap.
While I was suspended in this gap, I found myself swimming in a pool of hypotheses that stemmed from the fundamental question: “What If?”The question exists I think, because humans are constantly yearning a return to their past. And the cinema and films that I have been exposed to in this project, expresses this certain nostalgia in all forms, shapes and sizes. There is nostalgia in the flashback sequences and allusions of Tears of the Black Tiger, and there is nostalgia in Wong Kar Wai’s classic, rustic old school film sets in In The Mood for Love. There is also nostalgia in a return to a past that probably never was in Like You Know it All, and there is also nostalgia in the memories and mental projections of Genjuro in Ugetsu.
What I’ve written so far about cinema so far revolves itself around nostalgia and emptiness, or gaps in the ellipses. What I’ve come to realize, is very simple. Yet, it has eluded me for such a long time. In this project, I have learnt that cinema can, with all its simplicity and honesty, bridge the gap between the present that is always so isolating and lonely, and the past that we can never seem to reach.