Number three: Tan Chui Mui

She is a quiet provincial girl, who once finds herself in a big city; he is a passer-by or a cheat, not trying to hide his dubious criminal inclinations behind his insolent charm. This sounds simple: when a movie guy meets a movie girl, what secrets can they have from an attentive movie goer? The viewer’s experienced eye will momentarily notice all variations played by the couple: from miraculously didactic 'bad guy's transformation' to a socially pessimistic motive of a ‘pimp's victim’. Yet, what will happen if the same old story, told many times before, is told again through apophasis, intended ruptures and gaps in narration?

This is what Malaysian Tan Chui Mui does in her full-length debut film “Love Conquers All”. The scenes of this seemingly modest love-story get confused and become contradictory to each other, teasing us with a vague guess: it seems to us that scenes of extreme importance are somewhere near but drop out of the film. A whole series of apophases of the amorous and casual character dims on the screen and in the viewer’s mind, having never come into light. The heroine is vaguely uncertain about her feelings. She feels anxious towards her still strange lover. She cannot see her desires. Finally, there is just a casual course of life: people chew their breakfasts, walk along the streets, or just idle away their time. Everything is happening against our will and is rarely reflected in the movies, though occupies a considerable part of our time and exerts such colossal influence on our life. Tan Chui Mui does not rush to demonstrate all the ‘forgotten’ episodes and all the ‘dropped out’ taints of feelings: she only makes a loud accent on their absence. Not events but empty spaces between the events occur in her films. Not words but apophases behind them sound. Out of gaps and apophasis, something like amorous speech is born, which is generated by the film.

How does Mui arrange this paradoxical speech, making stresses on pauses? Here is an elementary and simplified example. The heroine of the short film “Everyday Everyday” once tells her husband before falling asleep that she is going to leave for Peru in order to create, “as this is the most remote country from Malaysia”. These words slip from her tongue, and she falls asleep, leaving her husband perplexed, although her words are not even a vague intention but rather something residual from her deeds, thoughts and plans; something mumbled on the verge between dream and reality. Yet, this fleshless particle, having split from apophasis, begins to influence the characters’ life gradually, changing their habits and actions, finally allowing them to rethink their attitude to each other.

The same approach works much more subtly in the full-length film by Mui. Here apophasis is almost not pronounced and does not receive space on the screen; to remind us of its presence only at the junctions of the sharp editing transitions. Instead of the expressivity of the events that have occurred, Mui focuses on trepidation for the events which have not happened and their exciting potential which triggers our imagination.

From this viewpoint, the cinema by Mui may be named, with some conventionality, a derivative from home video. In the final analysis, what is ‘a home film’ if not apophasis returned for a moment? One of the first short films by Mui “A Tree in Tanjung Malim” is exactly something like imaginary fantasized home video on the subject of the filmmaker’s youth. One of the scenes of this film serves as an unexpected rhyme for Lavretski’s film: during lazy and aimless wandering around the city, a young man asks the heroine to sing a song. After long persuasion, she agrees and, turning to the side, almost like Olechka Kovaleva, pronounces: “Only do not watch…”

Of course. We do not watch. We only guess or recollect all the best films of our own life.
© Maxim Seleznev

Maxim Seleznev

The program director of the Pobeda cinema in Novosibirsk, the chief editor of the magazine about independent films "Cineticle"


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