Tuesday, May 13, 2014

PERSONAS (2012, BK Lim, Singapore, documentary, 80min, A+30)

PERSONAS (2012, BK Lim, Singapore, documentary, 80min, A+30)
PERSONAS is a documentary interviewing three Singaporean male actors whose ages are different. Nicholas Bloodworth was about 27 years old when he gave the interview for this film. I guess Sunny Pang is in his thirties, and Jerry Hoh is in his forties.
PERSONAS makes me think about the following things:
1.I wanted to cry at the end of the film, and I’m not sure why. The film affects me a lot in an unexplainable way. I guess the reason why I wanted to cry is because
1.1 The cumulative effect of the interviews. There’s no particular moment in the interviews that makes me want to cry, but watching all of them makes me want to cry.
1.2 The arrangement of the interview segments in the film. I like the editing of this film very much. This film cuts back and forth between the three interviewees, but the emotion is very smooth all through the film. The editor of this film had to choose which parts of the interviews of these three actors should be juxtaposed next to one another. And I think the editor made the right choices. I guess the careful arrangement of the interview segments is one of the reasons why the film has such a profound effect on me at the end.
1.3 The transference of pain. This film makes us understand and sympathize with the interviewees, and somehow I feel as if the pain of the interviewees has been partly transferred to me.
1.4 The irony of the dancing scene. The penultimate scene of this film shows Nicholas dancing with a carefree attitude. It shows the hopefulness of youth, of a man in his twenties. But before we watch this scene, we have absorbed all the pain and suffering expressed by the interviewees in the former scenes. The suffering of life in the former scenes clashes with the hopefulness of the dancing scene, and it might be one of the reasons why the film makes me want to cry.
Nicholas dances sincerely in this scene. His hopefulness expressed in this scene is sincere. But I can’t help but wonder how many tears he will have shed before he becomes as old as Jerry. Because this film shows us (indirectly? unintentionally?) that life is painful, growing up is painful, life is full of obstacles, and we know for sure that one day Nicholas will be 40-50 years old, so the film makes me picture automatically that the happy face and the hopeful spirit of Nicholas today may fade away in the future. That doesn’t mean I want his life to turn out like that. I like Nicholas very much, and I truly wish he will have a very very happy life in the future. It’s just this film, this PERSONAS film, that makes me feel a little bit pessimistic about life.
The dancing scene of Nicholas also reminds me of the film 5X2 (2004, François Ozon). 5X2 tells a relationship story in reverse. It shows us first the divorce before leading us back to the scene in which the man and the woman first meets each other. The ending scene of 5X2 is very beautiful and very ironic. In this scene, we see the couple swimming on a shore into a very beautiful sunset or something like that. We know that they must be hoping for the great love of their lives at that moment, and we know that they will experience enormous suffering after that scene. The hopefulness of the characters in the ending scene clashes with the pain that we know for sure they will experience in the future. That’s the same kind of effect that the dancing scene in PERSONAS has on me. The hopefulness of Nicholas in that scene clashes with the pain that we guess he might experience in the future, though we hope he won’t experience it.
1.5 The music. I like the use of music in this film very much. The music is very rarely used in this film. But whenever it is used, it is used very effectively. Especially at the ending scene. I guess the choice of music used in that scene is one of the reasons why the film makes me want to cry.
2. Apart from making me feel unexplainably overwhelmed at the end of the film, this film is also very touching and humanistic. I feel touched by Jerry’s part the most. Parts of his childhood experience reminds me of my own childhood. I understand very well his yearning to run away from home. I once felt that in my life.
I always feel very good when I find a film like this, a film that makes me think about my own life or my own childhood, a film that reminds me that I’m not the only one in this world who had that kind of experience, that kind of feelings. There are not many films that make me feel like this. Another film that makes me feel like this is HIMIZU (2011, Sion Sono). My childhood is different from the characters’ childhood in HIMIZU, but somehow I feel that I understand their feelings very well. Watching films such as HIMIZU and PERSONAS makes me feel as if someone has embraced me tenderly and says to me, “I understand you. I understand your feelings. You are not alone.”
3. Apart from Jerry’s traumatic childhood experience, other parts of the interviews are also very interesting, though these parts don’t touch me personally like Jerry’s traumatic parts. These interesting parts include Jerry’s experience with the supernatural, Sunny talking about his mom who wanted to give him to foster parents, Sunny talking about how he once thought about the abortion of his child, Sunny talking about the suicide of his students, Sunny talking about what he felt when he saw the birth of his son, etc.
These parts don’t touch me personally as Jerry’s childhood parts, because I don’t have the same experience as these parts, but I still find them very interesting, because these parts are very humanistic, and it is more powerful than some fictional films which talk about the same things, because the interviewees in PERSONAS seem to bare their soul to the film, or seem to pour their hearts out to the film.
This is not easy to achieve—to make the interviewees bare their souls or pour their hearts out. The interviewers and the interviewees must trust each other completely in order to do that. There are many documentaries which cannot achieve this wonderful thing, because the interviewers and the interviewees are not that close, don’t trust each other completely, their wavelenghts can’t be matched, or the interviewers fail to persuade the interviewees to talk openly.
Most of the films that can achieve this wonderful thing are documentaries about persons close to the directors, such as family members or friends. Apart from PERSONAS, films like this include MY GRANDFATHER (2008, Pichet Smerchua, 45min), and MATOOM (2011, Benjamas Rattanaphech, 17min), which is about the director’s friend. But sometimes documentaries about persons not close to the directors can achieve this, too, such as MODERN LIFE (2008, Raymond Depardon), but it requires such a great director as Depardon, and requires a lot of time spent together between the director and the interviewees to achieve this.
4. I think what is interesting in Nicholas’ part is different from what is interesting in Jerry’s and Sunny’s parts, though Nicholas seems to bare his soul and pour his heart out like the other two. Nicholas can’t tell a coherent story like the other two. Since he is the youngest and seems to have the happiest childhood among the three actors, he lacks traumatic, interesting experiences which he can share with the audience. What he can share is his conflicted attitudes towards love and romantic relationships, because he seems not to have found his soulmate yet.
I think what is interesting in Nicholas’ part is what is left unsaid, instead of what is said. When I listen to Jerry and Sunny in PERSONAS, it is very easy for me to follow their stories, imagining some pictures in my head according to thier stories. But when I listen to Nicholas in this film, what I like is how he unintentionally inspires me to try to “fill in the blanks”. Nicholas seems to have stories to tell like the other two, but he doesn’t tell the stories straightforwardly. He only tells us his feelings towards some fragments of his stories. It is up to us to imagine the whole stories by ourselves using the fragments he gives to us. Thus, I find Nicholas’ part very interesting, though in a very different way from the parts of the other two.
5. I also like the opening part of PERSONAS very much. It shows us the faces of the three actors when they are in silent. Their faces are brimming with emotions, though we don’t know what the causes of these emotions are, or what the stories behind these emotions are. There’s something very human about this opening part. And it makes me think about some great portrait paintings. When we look at some great portrait paintings, there are some unexplained feelings and emotions on the faces and in the eyes of the persons in the paintings. Because of these unexplained feelings and emotions, we wonder about their lives. Why do they feel this way? What causes them to feel this way? An unrequited love? A traumatic childhood experience? A brutal civil war? Feeling tired of life?
Cutting off from the stories, the faces at the beginning of PERSONAS are very powerful for me. And I don’t know exactly how to explain this power.
6. There is a trivial thing that I like very much in PERSONAS. I seem to hear the sound of cars or something like that for a few seconds in the middle of the film. I’m not sure what that sound is, but it seems like some cars speeding along the streets outside the house. I don’t know why I like this sound very much. Maybe I like it because it seems to connect the space of this film to the whole wide world. The sound of the cars seems to open up the space of this film unintentionally. Before we hear the cars, “we are in a living room”. But when we hear the cars, “we are now in a living room in a house near a street in which cars are moving, and that means other people still go on living their own lives. Other people’s stories are outside this living room.” What we hear now from the interviewees in the film is just a story among many many other stories.
7.Though PERSONAS seems to be much simpler than most films in theatres, because PERSONAS consists of only three interviewees talking to the camera, I think it achieves what many films in theatres cannot do—showing us the souls of some human beings.
BK Lim also directed two short films-- ONE SUNNY MORNING (2011) and CINE TWILIGHT (2012). You can watch CINE TWILIGHT here: