by ASH

The 29th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) is underway! The biggest highlight of the festival is definitely the screening of home-grown director Royston Tan’s screening of his gritty film 15 in all its uncensored glory. Apart from that, there are also offerings from the region and beyond, showcasing movies from varied genres, such as drama, comedy, coming-of-age and more.

Here’s a look at the top 10 films from the film fest.

15 (2003)

As mentioned above, 15 is the most anticipated movie event at the festival. The 2003 film centres on the lives of five local teenagers who got mixed up in gangs. Back then, Royston did a daring move to cast real-life juvenile gangsters, to give a realistic portrayal of the lesser seen side of Singapore in the late 1990s to early 2000s.

At an experimental phase back then, the movie is highly stylised and ahead of its time. It’s also very graphic and with controversial content, so much so that it was banned from some neighbourhood cinemas for its depiction of gang names and locations. The movie is also heavily cut to make it more palatable to the general audience.

15 years later, Royston’s ground-breaking work is finally free from censorship shackles, being seen uncensored for the very first time to a theatre audience.

Midnight Express (1978)

Based on the 1977 non-fiction book of the same name, the movie dives into the life of Billy Hayes’ imprisonment and eventual escape from a Turkish prison. The movie’s screenplay was penned by Oliver Stone, and based on the real events experienced by Hayes, who was only 23 when he was thrown into prison.

The movie follows his times in the prison, giving an unflinching look at the harsh circumstances he had to go through as a foreigner locked up away from home. There were horrifying scenes of Hayes’ ordeal during his five-year custody. Beyond that, it also touches on his diminishing mental capacity as he slowly sinks into a state of misery. There were scenes showing his immense pain and hopelessness that are gut-wrenching to watch.

Of Fathers and Sons (2017)

Award-winning Syrian documentary maker Talal Derki offers us an in-depth look at how religious fundamentalism ravages his homeland. The documentary follows the family of Abu Osama, a devout Jihadist and al-Nusra fighter. Made over two years, Derki gives us an insight look at how the children of Syria live with the turmoil of war, and are influenced by their parents, in this case, Abu, to adopt his radical Islamic beliefs.

The Iron Ladies (2001)

A riot of a movie, The Iron Ladies is a fictionalised account based on the historic win by a team of gay and transgender athletes at the 1996 Thai national volleyball championships. Instead of delving into the struggles the team members go through to get acceptance of their LGBTQ identities, the movie, instead, centres on two of the team members misadventures in trying to fit into a normal team. When they were spurned by their straight teammates, their new coach decides to bring in new blood, of all gender preferences. While it is mostly a barrel of laughs, The Iron Ladies does have moments where it touches on the stigma the LGBTQ community have to put up with, but with humour that makes these tough subjects easy to digest.

Another Day of Life (2018)

Oscar-nominated Spanish documentarian Raúl de la Fuente, along with Polish animator Damian Nenow takes us on a gripping three-month journey that Polish photojournalist Ryszard Kapuscinski took across war-ravaged Angola. A documentary done in a mixture of animation and live-action footage allows the film-maker to bring out the richness of content without compromising due to lack of access to the places and harsh encounters at the front-lines of war. While the interviews use actual live footages, Kapuscinski’s inner state of mind during his period of risking his life to be the first in the world to cover the breaking war is brought out in spectacular animated sequences.

Vox Lux (2018)

See Natalie Portman as you’ve never seen her before, as a tantrum-throwing diva of a pop star. Transformed into a pop star at just 18, Celeste remains at the top of her game 18 years later. Yet, the songstress is unhinged, uncomfortable and unapologetic for her demanding ways. Beyond the glittering costumes and admiring how Portman departs from her usual roles, Vox Lux uses the guise of a pop star to flesh out the issues with our increasingly materialistic and shallow society, and also the dark tragedies that define our era.

Nervous Translation (2017)

It’s part-whimsical, part child-like, but every bit fantastic. Nervous Translation brings us into the imaginative world of 8-year-old Yael, a shy little girl who’s mostly left at home alone because her dad works abroad, and her mom spends long hours at a shoe factory. Yael stays home, with too much time to spare. She goes through tape recordings that her parents left her, and makes up stories and worlds of her own, with everyday objects. On the surface, it’s about a little girl being bored at home, but the deeper story that director Shireen Seno delivers is how children make sense of the uncompromising world around them.

The River (2018)

The third of the trilogy with director Emir Baigazin’s earlier films- Harmony Lessons and The Wounded Angel, The River takes us into a family of five brothers, living a constricted life on a farm on the Kazakh plains. When the modern world threatens to intrude onto this quiet, unspoiled and uncorrupted countryside, the brothers find themselves unprepared for the invasion of the 21st century, leading to disruption of the family order.

The Image Book (2018)

Jean-Luc Godard is back to tease us with this boundary-pushing offering and Special Palme d’Or-winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Godard shot the film for almost two years in various Arab countries. Told in five parts, the film is really about Godard’s abstract thoughts on various subjects, ranging from war and revolution, industry and law, the Western and Arab worlds and more. What we see is a dreary landscape filled with chaos, oppression and politically charged imagery that will leave audiences psychologically drained.

A Family Tour (2018)

Director Ying Liang mirrors A Family Tour to his own story, telling the tale of a Chinese filmmaker who’s no longer welcome in her home country. In the film, Yang Shu’s repeated efforts to film China’s political injustices had served her the biggest injustice- banned from entry. She now lives in Hong Kong with her husband and son. When one of her works is selected for a festival in Taiwan, she makes elaborate plans to meet her mother there, who travels from China. She has to make calculated moves so that their actions will not be discovered.

With A Family Tour, Ying doesn’t just replay his life story on screen, but rather, his intention is to highlight the disruption of lives under an oppressive rule that even meeting loved ones can be named as an act of defiance against the country.