Reveals a writer-director granted insufficient time to reach her full potential.

Somewhere between understated and underdeveloped, “Talentime,” the swan song of Yasmin Ahmad, who died in July at age 51, reveals a writer-director granted insufficient time to reach her full potential. The story of two school talent-show contestants and their extended families, this slight pic offers a cross-section of contempo Malaysian life with hints of its religious, racial and social complexities. Already the subject of a 2006 Tokyo fest retro, Ahmad has received similar tributes — with “Talentime” headlining — across the fest circuit this year. But even within Southeast Asia, the pic underperformed in commercial venues.

Love blossoms (but drama plods) as comely singer Meleur (Pamela Chong Ven-teen) falls for mute student Mahesh (Mahesh Jugal Kishor), who’s assigned to drive her to rehearsals. Whether it be Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” or Pete Teo’s cute love songs, music provides a much-needed boost to Ahmad’s material, but unscored sections are marked by awkward silences, with clumsy comedy relief. Thesps utter jokes and straight lines with little sense of their meaning, as if the dialogue had been rehearsed to death. Snappier editing could get the pic up on its feet.

Talentime

Malaysia

Production

A Chilli Pepper Films production. (International sales: Primeworks Studios, Selangor, Malaysia.) Produced by Mohammad Effendy Harjoh. Executive producers, Ahmad Puad Onah, Faszil Manap. Directed, written by Yasmin Ahmad.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Low Soon-keong; editors, Raja Affandy, Raja Jamaluddin; music, Pete Teo; production designer, Wong Voon-leong. Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (Winds of Asia), Oct. 20, 2009. (Also in Pusan Film Festival -- Winds of Asia.) Malay, English, Tamil dialogue. Running time: 115 MIN.

With

Pamela Chong Ven-teen, Mahesh Jugal Kishor, Mohammed Redzuan Adamshah, Jaclyn Victor.
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