Sunday, August 10, 2008

Probably the most detailed, most considered, and most positive review so far for "Mukhsin".

celebrating end of mukhsin shoot

It was written in the U.S., by a gentleman by the name of Michael Sicinski, in a website called The Academic Hack.

I must thank Amir for the heads-up.

The review can be found at and it reads like so:

"I've been at a bit of a loss to explain just exactly what it was about Mukhsin that gradually blew me away. As I've allowed my reaction to Ahmad's film to steep like tea in my mind, I've started to realize that my difficulty in articulating the precision and wonder of Mukhsin directly pertains to Ahmad's status as a criminally underrated international director whose earlier work I must catch up with immediately. Mukhsin is characterized by patience and restraint; there is nary a close-up in the film, and most of the action occurs in medium-long master shots that often render the films two young protagonists hazy and even somewhat typical. But this set of formalist remarks could be attributed to any number of Asian films of the last twenty to thirty years. This is not to sell Ahmad short; she displays subtle, exquisite handling of cinematography and mise en scène. Interiors often bear an off-kilter Ozuian rectilinear depth; slight camera movements and graceful readjustments within close quarters echo Mizoguchi without any ostentatiousness; her outdoor shots effortlessly embed her figures in radiant magic-hour landscapes, demonstrating a tactile yet quasi-spiritual treatment of light that would indeed hold its own alongside Apichatpong. But as you watch Mukhsin, you actually have to actively attune your mind to these formal elements, since they are so organically woven with Ahmad's story values. And this, I think, is why it's possible to watch Mukhsin, and possibly other Ahmad films, without really seeing them. Her directorial touch is light and supple, defined by what it doesn't do. Mukhsin never swaggers across the screen like "art cinema," even though it is incontestably a cinematic work of art.

In narrative terms, Mukhsin is a story of puppy love curtailed. Again, this in itself might send serious film critics moving in the other direction, although Ahmad's sensitive, intelligent treatment is more Blue Gate Crossing than Shunj Iwai. Orked (Sharifah Aryana Syed Zainal Rashid) is a tomboyish 10-year-old who takes a shine to the new boy, Mukhsin (Muhammad Syafie bin Naswip) after she chunks a football at him hard enough for him to let her join an all-boys game. Their hesitant blossoming friendship, with walks and bike rides and Koran study and Mukhsin staying with Orked's hip parents for dinner, serves as the fulcrum around which Ahmad sends numerous other bits of narrative coloratura. Operating in a nearly Renoirian register, Ahmad grants all of the film's marginal business a remarkable depth of implied social and emotional context, to say nothing of an abiding generosity of character. Orked's "differently ambitious" musician father and outspoken, British-educated, English-speaking mother, for example, flout conventional Malay gender roles as well as ethnic codes of decorum. Neighbors remark on this, and Ahmad allows this to become a source of tension at certain moments in the film. But for the most part, this "issue" is left unresolved, since it is not an issue, as such. Likewise Mukhsin's acknowledgment of liberal Muslims' conflicts with tradition, and Malaysia's overall grapple with modernity in all forms; the tensions between ethnic Malays and ethnic Chinese; and the need for frank and open discussion of sexuality, in particular among women. Ahmad never drops these very real social concerns into the film as "topics for edification;" rather they emerge naturally, as they would in the course of life in a culture in transition. Ahmad activates a field of complex questions, without ever purporting to supply answers.

Instead, Mukhsin dramatizes, within the drama itself, the very real social forces that impinge on and swirl around two young people simply trying to grow up, learn to write their school themes, steal a kiss, put a bully in his place, or hide an erection. I do not want to make grandiose claims for Mukhsin, not because the film cannot withstand them -- the film is excellent -- but because Ahmad's craft, her art, is premised on a fundamental humility, and to overburden the film with theoretical grandstanding runs counter to its very nature. (Then again, its the very unassuming quality of Ahmad's mastery that seems to be preventing the film intelligentsia from taking this film as seriously as it should.) But so-called Transnational Feminist theorists would do well to examine Ahmad's work, since like them, Mukhsin is about complexifying the world, deepening interconnections, delving into the messiness of the conundrums that women face, and moving outward, forging even more connections. At Mukhsin's conclusion, Ahmad delivers a voiceover that informs us that she was Orked, and that she found love again later, and the film is in part a dedication to Mukhsin in hope that he did too. And so, among other things, Mukhsin is Ahmad's absolutely specific examination of a moment in time from the subject position of a 10-year-old girl, with the recognition that whatever time, tide, and patriarchy may have done to Mukhsin, he was there in the thick of it with Orked, a comrade in the fight just to become. This, in addition to being profoundly moving art, is a dual triumph for feminism and humanism, one in which neither sells the other short."

Rabbana wa lakalhamdu. I only wish I knew how to contact Mr. Sicinski, so I can send him dvd's of "Rabun", "Sepet", and "Gubra".