Year Without A Summer (2010)

Director: Tan Chui Mui
Year: 2010

Day 2 of the Tokyo Filmex festival.

When I was looking over the Filmex catalogue trying to decide what to see, I realized I had probably never seen a Malaysian film, and opted to see A Year Without A Summer today. The screening was held in a big hall at Tokyo International Forum, which was about 90% full, but I had the impression that I was the only person in the hall who was awake for the entire running time. I quite liked this film, but I can understand while the people around me nodded off—it is very slowly paced. It is also very quiet, as they only music is one short scene when a woman puts on a record and there are long stretches with no dialogue.

The story opens with a man returning to his home village on a remote island, which he left many years earlier before becoming a famous singer. He is greeted by his old friend who has since married a school teacher. After dinner, the three go out for walk on the beach, and then hop in a small boat for late night fishing. The married man boasts that his wife can hold her breath for three minutes, and to prove it she hops in the water. The camera continues to run for the full three minutes. When she comes up, the singer goes down for a try. He never resurfaces. A series of long flashbacks show the two men as boys struggling in abject poverty in the village, and the events that led to one of them leaving to seek fame and fortune. In an interesting take on the nature of memory, the flashbacks are all brightly lit and in sharp focus, while the scene set in the present have an unreal quality.

The sound designer for the film was present at the screening and had interesting things to say about film funding in Malaysia. There are four main languages in the country—Malay, Chinese, Tamil and English, as well as over 100 minor languages, and many Malaysians will not speak two sentences without mixing at least two sentences. However, the government only provides funding for films that are completely in Malay, which is the case with this film.

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