One of the most fascinating local independent filmmakers today, Kan Lume continues to show why he's also one of the most prolific, with stories that tell of the human condition being made not only in Singapore, but across the Causeway, and now in Australia as well, where he was residing for a period of time recently. A confluence of opportunity and factors came together that made Liberta possible, arising from tragedy that had hit the filmmaker personally, but like a phoenix came this film that seemingly brought him almost full circle to when he made waves with his first feature film The Art of Flirting.
Kan's films are always known for its edge, and this also meant ruffling a few feathers that had seen a couple of restrictions, to put it lightly, being imposed on his films. Solos was banned locally, as was Female Games, both for its homosexual content, with the latter film being recut and slapped with an R21 rating for a limited commercial run in Sinema, but to frame and box those films under that theme is not doing the movies any favour, because they are more than that. Out of his frustration came Dreams From the Third World, pushing the filmmaker into creative spaces outside of geographical boundaries, and as if this was also a contributing factor to having Liberta made from Down Under.
Like his first film, Liberta is shot under the simplest of terms, with the writer-director at the helm of a creative process that blurs the line between documentary and drama, exploring issues that push a person over the edge of suicide contemplation, and its two outcomes of whether to go along with it, or to junk the idea altogether. With the latter comes a deep dive into the factors behind it, serving as a carthathic process for the filmmaker and his cast of one to iron out their internal demons through the character they co-create, who is on a road trip of self-exploration, and confessional in some sense, to the fabled Ayers Rock.
Split into three distinct chapters, the film is plenty of talk from a single source, almost interview style, of Faye (Faye Kingslee), with the interviewer (Kan Lume) muted and unseen the whole time, but whom we know is behind the camera and chief instigator with his questions, probing for answers and seeking clarification during Faye's long monologues on topics that contains everything under the sun, and then more. Anecdotes, stories, philosophy and experiences got retold on camera, which will engage you as you get drawn into the world of a woman facing issues that will resonate with many who have faced, or are facing something similar. And these are not far-fetched, as they draw upon common life experiences of love, loss, and the likes, basic human emotions that everyone would have gone through at one stage of their lives of another.
What made this film work, like all of his others, is Kan's incredible ability to draw natural performances from his cast, whether they be rookies in the field, or experienced practitioners. There's always a strong personality associated with the characters of Kan Lume's cinematic world, and this will set you to either root for, or against them, in their struggles. In this film, it's back to guerilla basics with a cast of one that the director draws an extremely effective performance out of as she rambles on about her life primarily, with monologues that do not seem out of place if in a Tarantino or Linklater film, that may have its own licence to go everywhere, but yet clearly calculated with reason and purpose. Everything got worked in for that final act, with the children, the life affirming experience, and a step out from the dark after being moved by something majestic that life has to offer.
Perhaps much can be said about Kan's interest on women issues having them feature heavily in almost all his works - Marilyn Lee's protagonist in The Art of Flirting, the mom in Solos, that Dreams From the Third World was about the wife character as much as it was about the male filmmaker protagonist, in Female Games about two model-actress wannabes, and now with Faye presenting his strongest female character yet amongst them all. It'll probably be as absorbing if someone was to do an analysis of all the female characters in Kan Lume's films, and I'm sure it may turn up a surprise or two. Kan's wife and co-founder of his independent Chapterfree studio was editor of this film, and this would also likely be key in presenting a very strong female perspective for this movie.
There may not be word on another screening yet, but do keep your eyes peeled to catch this gem should it be screened on another festival platform here, or abroad. It isn't everyday that you'd get to witness a courageous effort in filmmaking working within monumental constraints, yet coming on top with what would be Kan's finest film to date.
You can also view the companion piece known as Libertas, which is a gorgeously done short animation film: