Monday, March 13, 2006

Singapore Straits Times review of 'Gubra'

quill and inkwell
Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller.
"MALAYSIAN writer-director Yasmin Ahmad's big, benevolent heart is on ample display here.

Her third feature embraces characters with a sympathetic eye. Her greatest accomplishment is in enveloping the audience with a warm and fuzzy blanket that is no less comforting for its acknowledgement that the world can be a cold, harsh place.

Named after the colloquial Malay word for "anxiety", it is nonetheless told with great assurance.

Fans of her last movie, the interracial romance Sepet (2004) will be pleased by the return of protagonist Orked (Sharifah Amani Al-Yahya) and her kooky clan.

But Gubra is different from the lightweight sentiment of Sepet. The director states her intent at the opening, which quotes from the Quran, "In the name of God, the most loving, the most compassionate".

Gubra is not just a love story. It is also a meditation on what it means to love, to live and to have faith.

It is a measure of how far Yasmin has come as a film-maker and storyteller that these issues are dealt with deftly, in the guise of simple stories.

The narrative is split between the comfortable middle-class world of Orked and the lower-income kampung environs of muezzin Pak Bilal (Shahili Abdan aka Namron).

Orked is married to Arif (Adlin Aman Ramlie), who is much older than she is. Arif on first encounter is the dependable rock.

Pak Bilal, a happily married man, teaches by living what he preaches - a spare life whose keynote is kindness to every living creature, from a stray dog to a single mother, Temah (Roziwati Mohd Rashid), working as a prostitute to support her young son.

These characters find themselves in almost Sandiwara-style soap opera dilemmas. Orked discovers her husband is cheating. Temah tests positive for HIV.

What grounds these characters is Yasmin's unerring instinct for heartfelt emotions.

Her technique has matured with some subtlety. The sequence in which Temah discovers her HIV-positive status is told entirely without dialogue, through acting and nimble editing.

But what is remarkable is also Yasmin's singularly non-judgmental eye. Her camera remains mostly still, observing her characters as they endure emotional upheavals in carefully framed tableaus.

There is genuine curiosity and engagement in her gaze. Thus she invites the audience to be engaged as well.

Stay for the little stinger sequence after the end credits, which can be read as both a sunny promise of all the possibilities that love opens up in this world and all the hurt that being open can bring you.

An auteur is the omniscient dictator of a film world. But Yasmin is more akin to the good shepherd who watches protectively over her flock. And what a bountiful harvest she presents us with."

(Writer Ong Sor Fern gave 'Gubra' a 4 out of 5 stars rating.)