Monday, March 26, 2007

The Making of Mukhsin, Part 2: The memories that shaped the structure of the story.

I'm not one to speak elaborately about the so-called "formal structure" of films. As Pablo Picasso once said, "If you love a woman, you don't start measuring her limbs."

That said, every film DOES have a structure. A viewer just has to decide if the story, on the whole, moved him or not.

When I stumbled upon that poem I quoted in Part 1, I thought, "Yes! This poet got it right."

So many writers and filmmakers have spoken about the overwhelming power of their first love, but I never really believed them.

For me, my first encounter with romantic notions was just as Ms Szymborska described it. You don't lose sleep over it, the memories don't consume you, but for some reason, that person stays with you until the end.

As the poet so eloquently put it, "It introduces me to death."

And so it was with Mukhsin. That boy who ran barefoot across our neighbourhood all those years ago. Today, his silhouette treads gingerly across the hidden spaces of my heart. But not often.

I remember the landscape of that time much more vividly than the expressions on Mukhsin's face, or even the shape of his hands which were so often held out to me to help me climb the trees.

I remember that he could scale the entire length of a coconut tree in less than a minute; something I could never do, despite Mukhsin's gentle coaxing.

How tall that tree seemed back then, how wide the fields, and yet how small they all appeared when I finally returned to them as an adult.

I remember the neighbours. There was much talk about my mother, the young British graduate who married a music teacher. "What kind of mother would encourage her children to play in the rain?" "Her husband is a musician, and we all know what musicians are like!"

I remember that the house Mukhsin stayed in was almost decrepit, but I had never stepped inside. I don't even recall who his guardians were or how they looked like.

I often ask myself how it would feel if we were to meet again. Very likely just as how the poem described it. "Our only meeting after years: two chairs chatting at a chilly table."

I wouldn't know what to say to him.

So there it is. A faint but persistent memory. Nothing to shout about, but indelible just the same.

And that is why the cinematic canvas of "Mukhsin", the film, is filled with broad strokes and ellipses. Formal structuralists might find the gaps disturbing, and the climax too subdued, but so be it. The memories are mine, and I wasn't interested in spicing up what was essentially a distant recollection of a girl who hurt a boy.

After the award ceremony in Berlin, the director of Generations held a dinner party at his house. One by one, the members of the international jury told me what they liked about our film. It was the small things, they said, which ultimately formed a strange and magical gestalt.

"Yes," I thought, "the flavour of green tea over rice."