Ambitious, sleek-looking B&W docu examines wide array of ethnic, religious and political divisions in modern Malaysia. Clever picmaker Amir Muhammad, who also narrates and appears onscreen, pegs effort to October 1987 event in which a young Malay soldier, called Private Adam, shot up downtown Kuala Lumpur. Combining eyewitness accounts, talking-head observers of current life and stylistic space-fillers, such as self-referencing asides and animated segs, helmer casts net so wide he’s sure to lose some outside viewers. But “The Big Durian,” now having a Sundance bow, will make good programming at any fests favoring Asian fare or boundary-pushing docus.
Title, which refers to a large Southeast Asian tree with smelly but appetizing fruit, is applied by Malays to their capital — although the same is done by Singaporeans and Jakartans to their cities. Here, the title reps a messy tent holding natives together with Chinese, Indian and other communities, often with brief outbursts of violence. “Amok,” in fact, turns out to be a Malay word, and that concept permeates the pic, with its disorderly mix of straight-ahead chatter over-the-top visits from actors masquerading as private citizens.