As is customary, the local fare on offer at the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) is linguistically and thematically diverse, reflecting the nature of the island city-state.
The opening film, Tan Bee Thiam’s “Tiong Bahru Social Club,” is presented in several languages, including English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Malay and Tamil. Inspired by Jacques Tati and Charlie Chaplin, the stylized satire follows a 30-year old millennial who stumbles across the eponymous club, an organization that aims to transform Singapore’s Tiong Bahru into the happiest neighborhood in the world.
While “Tiong Bahru Social Club” bowed at Busan in October, the rest of the local features are all world premieres.
In Biyun Tan’s irreverent Chinese, Hokkien, Teochew and English-language “Citizen Hustler,” a hawker seeks ways to access financial aid after the closure of the Sungei Road flea market.
Remi M. Sali’s English, Mandarin and Bahasa Melayu-language film “Not My Mother’s Baking,” details the romance between a Malay Muslim woman, who is the daughter of a celebrity chef, and a Chinese man who she engages to produce her vlogs. However, a cultural difference emerges, as his parents run a stall selling roast pork, a meat that is anathema to Muslims.
Liao Jiekai and Sudhee Liao’s Japan-set documentary “Faraway My Shadow Wandered” is a Singapore-Japan co-production in Japanese and English. It follows a man who returns to his roots in the company of a visitor researching dance.
In the English and Mandarin-language “Sementara,” filmmakers Chew Chia Shao Min and Joant Ubeda do a deep dive into the heart of Singapore, interviewing people from all walks of life, as the nation celebrates its golden jubilee in 2015.
The beating heart of Singapore cinema and the SGIFF is its robust shorts program. Accompanying the opening film is SGIFF-commissioned short, Shoki Lin’s “Newborn,” in which a young mother is forced to care for her newborn child alone after her mother’s disappearance.
In addition, there are two packed shorts line-ups in the Singapore Panorama strand. Highlights include Russell Adam Morton’s “Saudade,” narrated in Kristang, an endangered creole language of Portuguese Eurasians, which reimagines rituals of early Eurasian kampongs; Shreela Agarwal’s Hindi, English and Tamil “My Brother” that charts the plight of undocumented workers; Lim Jia Ying’s English-language “Watermelon Please,” a hand-drawn animated short where a man’s love for watermelon becomes the catalyst for introspection; and Yong Mun Chee’s Mandarin, Teochew, Cantonese-language “21 Days,” which follows a man’s desperate quest for signs of his deceased mother’s spirit.