Thursday, September 16, 2004

What kind of a film critic are you?

Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller.
When reviewing a film, I feel it's best to consider its main contention first. By this, I mean its "message", or the feeling, or the personal philosophy the filmmaker wanted to express. It helps to think about these things, even before you consider details like dialogue, acting or editing or camera moves.

(On your first date with someone, you'd want him to tell you how he felt about you as a person -- your sense of humour, your intellect, disposition, etc -- instead of something superficial like your teeth.)

There is a reason for this. Once you have demonstrated your awareness of the film's contention, or the feelings it wants to impart, it automatically qualifies you to judge the finer points of the film. Because then your judgment is no longer willy-nilly or based on petty preferences, but grounded on its maker's intentions.

For example, you could say that the editing for a particular film was too fast, if the auteur's intention was to portray the pain of waiting. Or that the film's overly-red colour-grading was a mistake, given that the characters in the film were meant to be cold-blooded and calculating.

Furthermore, by showing that you have a grasp of what the filmmaker was trying to express, you can even go so far as to state whether or not you agree with what he's expressing. Or, even more interestingly, if he was successful in his attempt to express it.

Some film "critics" here, and indeed all over the world, are really mere film reviewers, and not critics at all.

Comments like "beautiful pictures", "nice music", "poor acting" and "disappointing ending" may be good enough for a high-school magazine, but for a national newspaper, a film critique has to be more than that.

How, for instance, would you review "Buai Laju-Laju", a film I saw recently and liked a lot? It contained no message and propounded no philosophy (none that I was clever enough to detect anyway), and yet it evoked such strong emotions in me. Within the first 15 minutes of the film, I found myself feeling intrigued, scared, and even sexually aroused! And all this, in spite of the shoddy video-to-film transfer that U-Wei is notorious for.

And so to me, "Buai Laju-Laju" is a good film, and more importantly, I'm able to say why. In this case, it's simply because the feelings its maker wanted to impart (and it was patently obvious even to an idiot like me what those feelings were), sank in, and deeply. And even though some of my indie friends dismissed it as "U-Wei's worst", and that "the first half was assured, but the rest of it played out like cheap tv dramas", if I agreed with the great Hitchcock that "art is emotions", then "Buai Laju-Laju" alone is enough to indicate to me that U-Wei is a fine artist indeed.

The sad part is that I can't, with any degree of conviction, say the same about myself, or 95% of the directors in this country, mainstream or otherwise.