In The Mood For...
If memory serves me right, the films produced by 13 Little Pictures have so far made their World Premieres in festival overseas, so there's something different and special this year to have not one but two of their films make their worldwide debut at the Singapore International Film Festival, both directed by first time feature filmmakers. I Have Loved marks the feature film debut of Elizabeth Wijaya and Lai Weijie sharing writing, directing and producing responsibilities, weaving a tale about loss and memory shot entirely in the city of Siem Reap, Cambodia.
There are many aspects here all primed to make this a crowd pleaser, from the exotic locations available in Cambodia to be put on film, and of course what would be filmmaker Glen Goei's starring role in film that's a treat, since you would have seen him in a stage performance before, but besides making cameo appearances in his own films, filmgoers haven't seen him flex his acting muscles on film before, at least I haven't. But somehow the story, that may be deceptively simple about a woman going through a rather depressive period to battle her sense of loss, and to deal with flitting memories of a city in which happier times were spent in, didn't really quite gel when it got deliberately fragmented into a non-linear presentation in an attempt to transcend time and space, and leaves more questions than answers that makes it simple to be waved away as just tough luck and harsh realities.
Granted that any narrative dealing with memory will allow for repetition, a theme that recurs explicitly, and random access into timelines that have past, but somehow this was done at the expense of crafting characters that an audience will care for. Instead we have a woman whom we find tough to connect to since she doesn't really engage, and Eryn Tett playing her with marked aloofness half the time when opposite Thai actor Amarin Cholvibul as an acquaintance she meets, whose mannerisms and characteristics are in obvious stark contrast to Harold's, didn't really cut it when she's supposed to mourn about loss. Scenes opposite Glen's Harold, a writer who's almost always decked out impeccably, were woefully short, as I felt the best scenes in the film are when these two performers grace the screen.
Lingering shots in which the camera doesn't move is fast becoming the choice de rigueur, and cinematography is undoubtedly superb thanks to the many picturesque capture of landscapes both urban and rural that makes it difficult not to be distracted from the characters, allowing one's gaze to focus on the background instead. Watching this film and not having been to the Angkor temples nor Cambodia herself before just strengthens the resolve to get there, and if more in the audience share the same sentiments then perhaps the Cambodia Film Commission would be pleased with the effort brought about by this film to boost tourism numbers.
Without a doubt it's a tough film to sit through, one that will challenge and keep you constantly working to piece together scenes and fragments of memories belonging to different characters who take turns to narrate, or sing even. You'll try to feel for the film and its characters, but unfortunately I came up against an emotional void. Interestingly the filmmakers did mention during the post screening Q&A session of a more conventional, linear version that they had originally conceived before allowing their editor free rein to craft the film which resulted in this cut. I would love to see the original directors' cut should it exist one day, and see how different it could have evoked emotions on the characters that perhaps we would have really cared for.