story | Neo Huiyuan and Terence Wang, Arts Editors

photo | Danny Lim © Apparat 2016

Engaging 12,000 audiences with over 100 films annually, the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) is Southeast Asia’s longest-running international film platform, featuring film screening, masterclasses, talks, panel discussions and in-conversation sessions led by guest directors, actors and industry experts. In its 27th edition this year, the SGIFF will open with Interchange, a fantasy noir thriller film by lauded Malaysian filmmaker Dain Iskandar Said. The Octant was invited to a rare pre-screening of the film, held last month at *SCAPE.

Interchange weaves Malaysian folklore seamlessly with the enigma of film noir. Inspired by a century-old photograph by Carl Lumholtz, which showed a group of tribal woman cleansing themselves of the evil effects of being photographed, the film was a tribute to nostalgia and the Malaysian identity in the modern, secular context. Interchange was representative of the festival’s spirit; the film explored Malaysian culture against the backdrop of Kuala Lumpur’s skyscrapers, and interpreted oral tradition through the medium of modern storytelling.

Director Dawn Iskandar Said.

Director Dain Iskandar Said.

Mr. Said’s love for the noir genre and style was clear from start to end. The troubled protagonist, the keen detective, the deceptive femme fatale—all were alive and present in this film. The former role is taken on by young forensics photographer Adam (Iedil Putra), haunted by hallucinations arising from previous assignments and keen to remove himself from a job that keeps him a hair too close to the criminal underworld. However, his boss Detective Man (Shaheizy Sam) is less supportive, desiring Adam’s help in a new case unfolding through the city involving a series of strange ritual murders. Reluctant but curious, Adam finds himself becoming entangled in a complex web of perplexing events and mysterious characters, one of themhis alluring new neighbour Iva (Prisia Nasution). The cast did an excellent job at adding to the murky nature of the film, with character arcs that develop with complexity and unpredictability over the course of the two-odd hours.

Perhaps the clear talent of the cast made Said’s next feat even more remarkable: from what is, for all intents and purposes, an indie film, the cinematography of Interchange is nothing short of stunning. The dark, gritty atmosphere of the city fits the noir style perfectly, often evoking a sense of fear and secretiveness. But beyond that, a distinct flavor is injected into the multiple allusions to the lush environment of Borneo, especially in the form of an unusual park-jungle hybrid in the middle of the city, directly contrasting with the moody urban environment.

Detective Man (Shaheizy Sam) arrives at the crime scene.

Detective Man (Shaheizy Sam) arrives at the crime scene.

One shortfall is the editing: scenes sometimes transition into each other somewhat roughly, making an already intentionally-complicated plot even harder to follow. Moviegoers more familiar with the mainstream fare may therefore face some difficulty digesting this film. This is a pity, as it is otherwise an intriguing film which proves that Southeast Asian cinema is nothing to sniff at.

The enduring enchantment of film lies in its power to tell beautiful stories and capture the imagination of a society. For an increasingly cosmopolitan Singapore, memories and identities are particularly pertinent. If the repertoire of SGIFF is to reflect the themes and quality of Interchange, SGIFF 2016 will be a platform for inspiration, learning and exposure for both filmmakers and audiences alike.
SGIFF will take place from Nov. 23 to Dec. 4, 2016, with SISTIC ticket sales starting on Oct. 28, 2016.

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