Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Faridul Anwar Farinordin on Mukhsin, Berlin, and a bit about the new films.

"SAY what you want about her, but filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad is really making us proud. While two of her feature films, Sepet and Gubra, are still picking up awards at reputable film festivals all over the world, her third outing, Mukhsin, has been selected to compete at the 57th Berlin International Film Festival.

The heartwarming coming-of-age tale that deals with innocence, first love and self-discovery is listed under the “Generation” category for films that focus on youth as a theme. The festival runs from Feb 8 to 18.

There are 13 other films competing in this category. They include Silly’s Sweet Summer (Germany), Dorm (Thailand), Kidz in da Hood (Sweden), Iska’s Journey (Hungary), Call Me Elisabeth (France), Razzle Dazzle (Australia) and The Last Mimzy (United States).

Speaking to reporters at a special screening of Mukhsin recently, Yasmin said she didn’t expect her work to be selected for the festival at all.

“I thought I’d have to make at least nine or 10 films before I could even smell Berlin,” she said, adding that she has Lorna Tee from Focus Films to thank for this. The Hong Kong-based film company helmed by Andy Lau, selected Mukhsin for international sales and distribution.

In November last year, Mukhsin charmed Japanese audiences at the 19th Tokyo International Film Festival where it was nominated for Best Asian Film.

The movie was also screened under a special five-day event called “Yasmin Ahmad Retrospective”, which featured Yasmin’s earlier works — Rabun, Sepet and Gubra.

Mukhsin is a tender and touching story about a 12-year-old boy, Mukhsin (Mohd Syafie Naswip), and 10-year-old Orked (Sharifah Aryana Syed Zainal Rashid, the baby sister of Sharifah Amani who played Orked in Sepet and Gubra), who discover something more meaningful and beautiful about their friendship.

Shot in Kuala Selangor last year, it will open nationwide in March.

The scene where Mohd Shafie holds back tears while calling out Orked’s name to tell her that he’s leaving the village, got us all choked up. If there is such a thing as classic celluloid moments in a local film industry, this one clearly deserves a spot.

“Mohd Shafie left me and my crew with our mouths open. His emotions were so real and raw. The scene was the first we shot and he was still getting over his real off-screen crush on Sharifah Aryana. But I told him not to cry no matter how sad he was. And what he gave was very powerful.”

It was also quite interesting to see the union of Sharifah Amani’s Orked and Ng Choo Seong’s Jason in on-screen holy matrimony as a happily married couple (with a child) in one of the scenes.

“I just want to see them together on screen. The whole scene represents a sort of a dream sequence, where the sky is so blue and you live happily ever after with someone you love.”

Tugging further at the heartstrings is Nina Simone’s heart-wrenching ballad in French, Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me) and an original keronchong tune Hujan, written by Yasmin’s father!

Performed by Adibah Noor, it is also the film’s theme song and sets the whole sweet/melancholic mood for this gem of a movie.

The beautiful song is in the opening scene, in which Orked and her mother Mak Inom (played by Sharifah Aryana’s eldest sister Sharifah Aleya) dance in the rain, oblivious to the judging eyes of the neighbours.

Yasmin is currently working on a new film project, Muallaf (The Convert), in which she hopes to feature newcomer Brian Yap, better known as a writer and columnist for the New Straits Times.

“There’s this charming quality about Brian — very shy and introverted. It would be very exciting to see him opening up and playing the lead role in Muallaf,” she said, adding that Sharifah Amani, who takes on the female lead role, will shave her head in the movie. “She has already agreed to!”

When asked if Muallaf would be a socio-commentary and thought-provoking just like Sepet’s theme of intercultural relationships and Gubra’s tale of religious tolerance, Yasmin said: “I don’t want to provoke anybody. I just want to soften people’s hearts with a story that I believe should be told. It may be a comedy ... who knows?”

Yasmin was also ecstatic over another upcoming film project, with a working title Ibu Ibu, in which she hopes to feature Indonesia’s movie heavyweights, including Jajang C. Noer, Christine Hakim and Dian Sastrowardoyo."

- Life & Times, The New Straits Times, January 17th, 2007