Thursday, January 17, 2008

Something spooky.

Less than a week ago, a Dutch festival curator named Raymond Walravens came to my office.

Having seen "Mukhsin" at last year's Pusan International Film Festival, he expressed interest in seeing the rough cut of "Muallaf".

So I played it for him in our amphitheatre.

After the screening, he leaned towards me and said in utmost seriousness, "You're very much influenced by Ernst Lubitsch, aren't you?"

I leaned back and said, "I've never seen a Lubitsch film in my life. But of course I've heard of him, mainly by reading articles and watching documentaries about Yasujiro Ozu, my other cinematic idol apart from Charlie Chaplin."

Ozu, you see, was a great fan of Ernst Lubitsch, and I daresay, was influenced by him. So I asked Raymond what it was about my films that made him say that.

"In Lubitsch's films," he replied, "people express their affections openly, and the tragic is often placed alongside the comic."

Since then, I got hold of a late Lubitsch film called "Ninotchka", thanks to a tip from my good friend Ho Yuhang.

I was spellbound. A romantic, free-spirited Frenchman falls in love with a serious and glum Russian lady. He breaks her tough exterior by teaching her to laugh and embrace life.

It was a two and a half hour long film that made me laugh and cry at the same time. "Laugh and cry at the same time." And this is where it gets spooky.

After one screening of "Gubra" at last year's Golden Horse festival, a young film student named Lin Ru-Yu slipped a piece of paper into my hand. I still have it with me. In it was written these words:

"Although you said at the end of your film that there was nothing, I saw some ambition to reach something superior, compared to everyday life... I'd like to thank you for your films and your talks. It has been a long time since I last laughed and cried at the same..."

Ernst Lubitsch died of a heart attack in 1947. That's eleven whole years before I was even born. And yet, his influence on a Japanese man named Yasujiro Ozu, and in turn, Ozu's influence on this amateur filmmaker from Malaysia, has created an indelible chain of knowledge and artistic expression.

The world is ONE. Just as God himself is ONE.

I am reminded of a poem in Rabindranath Tagore's "The Gardener". It was poem number 85 in the book, and it went like this:

"Who are you, reader,
reading my poems
a hundred years hence?
I cannot send you one single flower
from this wealth of the spring,
one single streak of gold from yonder clouds.
Open your doors and look abroad.
From your blossoming garden
gather fragrant memories of the vanished flowers
of a hundred years before.
In the joy of your heart may you feel
the living joy that sang
one spring morning,
sending its glad voice
across a hundred years."

It sends shivers up my spine.