My Mother is a Belly Dancer is the last in the series of the FOCUS: First Cuts project, and to my surprise, it's my favourite of the lot, beating Crazy Stone, one of my movies of the year 2006! It's no secret that I dig dance movies, but this one is not the usual flick filled with teen angst and such. It has a lot more gravitas to it, and contains characters that you actually care for, with universal themes which makes it easier to reach out to audiences.
Belly dancing is getting popular amongst the dance crowd in Singapore. It's sensual, with those shoulder shimmies and belly twists, and contains moves that will probably give those abs a fabulous workout. It's a traditional dance, and no doubt with its sensualness, it takes a little getting used to, especially for local Asian women who are generally shy to expose that midriff and shake that booty. (Clarification: I think younger women have no qualms, but the movie's focus is on the "auntie crowd")
Set in a residential estate, the film looks into the lives of 4 women, and how dance, in particular the belly dance, helped to develop them into stronger women, from the traditional demure roles into independent womanhood. We actually look at mums of different ages and backgrounds, such as a housewife who gains no respect from her husband nor her kid son, a single, young mother, a fruit seller whose husband she suspects is having an affair, and finally, a rubbish collector whose facing problems with feeding her large family of kids given her husband's inability to hold down a well paying job.
Before you scream in disgust that this is typical women-power stuff, I'd like to assure that it actually has a lot of heart, and that's what made this movie so enjoyable. It's about finding strength and the acceptance of reality. It's about assertion and moving on. Each woman face their own unique problems in their lives, and by coming together in the dance class, they form a strong bond with one another, especially when the dance class itself face discrimination from the more traditional, uptight older womenfolk who view it as immoral and slutty. Their problems and challenges in their personal lives run viz-a-viz the issues of keeping their class alive, and by saving their class and keeping their spirits alive, they too subconsciously experience a change in their character.
The lead actresses, though not frequently seen in movies these days, all put up commendable performances, even though some of their characters start off in a one-dimensional manner. They added believability with their earnest portrayals of women facing problems, and who turn out for the better when they discover new strength during their dance sessions, and through the forging of new bonds. Andy Lau returns to lend some star power in the movie, as with most of the other FOCUS: First Cuts project films. Here, he cameos as the owner of a middle eastern bar, where women congregate and share their love for belly dancing.
So just what exactly is happiness? That's what the movie seeks to explore, and presents at the same time, the common viewpoints of family live as seen through different eyes, in different forms, under different circumstances.
To round up the FOCUS: First Cuts movies in order of preference, mine will be
1. My Mother is a Belly Dancer
2. Crazy Stone
3. Rain Dogs
4. I'll Call You
5. The Shoe Fairy
6. Love Story