Film Society Screening: (Be)Longing

By Loh Lin (19A01D), Kuang Shane Qi (19A13A) and Sarah Chen (19S03C)
Photos courtesy of Alyssa Loo (19A13A)

How do we grapple with notions of belonging? The second installment in Film Society’s Hodge Lodge screening series dealt with just that.  While their first screening addressed the struggles of being a woman, the films shown here tackled the human desire to fit in. Over the course of four (rather emotionally taxing) films, the audience was exposed to different takes on the theme of belonging, ranging from belonging in a social setting to the longing to belong.

1. The Six Dollar Fifty Man (2009)

Andy, the protagonist of The Six Dollar Fifty Man, is not what you would call a normal boy. He’s introverted, he has one friend, and his head is always buried in his sketchbook. It is this oddness that spurs his classmates to ridicule him — even in the realm of elementary school, those who are different find belonging difficult to attain.

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Andy and the Six Million Dollar Man, side-by-side

One significant motif is the Six Million Dollar Man, a superhero that Andy idealises and emulates. Andy dresses like him, right down to his bright pink jumper, and imagines himself performing similarly superhuman feats. This visual parallel gives us an insight into the source of the inner strength that Andy finds to stand up to his bullies; while Andy is miles away from being a real superhero, he stays true to his ideals and always does the right thing.

This film ends on an empowering note as the principal displays Andy’s artwork, including him as a member of the community and giving him a place in the status quo. Despite this heartwarming ending, this film leaves many important questions for the audience to ponder over: Must an authority figure always intercede to “save” the outcast? Must an outsider give up their fantasies in order to belong in a harsh world? It was these questions that the audience was left with as they prepared to watch the next film.

2. Lullaby (搖籃曲) (2018)

Lullaby was the only local film shown during the screening, and perhaps that was one of the reasons for its raw poignance. It shines a spotlight on a modern family of four, focusing on the tender exchanges between a grandmother and her grandchild. The tranquility of this everyday routine is ruthlessly shot through when the film takes its abrupt leave with the grandmother’s death.

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One of the writers found this scene the most moving of all, for it showed how we are all trying our best to love the people important to us, even if we don’t always know how.

This film elicited various muted but emotional responses from the audience, perhaps due to the familiar domestic setting it was grounded in. Watching the scenes play out, it would be hard-pressed not to be reminded of our relationship with our own grandparents; even harder still to swallow the guilt some of us felt as we thought back to the ways in which we might have been lacking. Putting aside their emotional distress, members  engaged in the usual post-film discussion, during which the audience found themselves on two sides: is the film an accusation of the lack of filial piety or a simple exploration of a modern family’s interactions with its elderly members?

Matthew Wong (18A01E) forwarded an intriguing alternative to the knee-jerk condemnation of the parents’ detachment from the grandmother, arguing that there is “warmth in [the simplicity of] their everyday motions despite how detached they seem to be”. He also gently reminded everyone that “while family members may not always be fully able to connect with one another, there is still a strong undercurrent of love underneath the cursory interactions”.

3. Paper Memories (2010)

Paper Memories employs a fresh filming technique — a seven-minute long stop motion picture completely void of dialogue. As if this was not unconventional enough, the film goes a step further to add moving photographs. The film follows an elderly man visiting various places of his past as he retraces his memories with his (implied) late wife. At each place the man visits, he holds up a photograph of his wife taken there, and in the photograph, his wife walks away from him. It seems as if this film was the reason for the parentheses in the screening title, Be(Longing), since it is the only film which does not address “belonging”, as directly as the others. Instead, Paper Memories tackles the idea of longing to belong by showing how a man’s sense of belonging is lost along with the death of his wife. Despite her already being gone from his life, he still digs up their memories together and finds himself chasing after her, as if he is unable to be at ease without her by his side anymore.

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Paper Memories makes use of the unique ability photographs possess to bring past memories to life.

This unique portrayal gave rise to two conflicting reactions from the audience. On one hand, some thought the combination of the disjointed stop motion style, intense soundtrack and the moving photographs was unnerving and creepy. On the other end of the spectrum, others found that this odd medley managed to tell a heartwarming story of a man missing his wife.

Though both sides were unable to reconcile their difference in views, the variety of reaction contributes to this film’s charm. Each one leads to a very different message about the way humans deal with loss — that to cling on to those we have lost is to be too overly attached or that love can and does persist through loss. Still, whether one finds it weird or touching, all can agree that the film expertly intertwines the themes of longing, belonging and loss.

4. How Was Your Day? (2016)

Specifically saved to be the last in the screening, How Was Your Day? definitely gave the audience lots to reflect on. This powerful film wrapped the night up with its take on belonging in a social role – that of  motherhood. The conflict between the protagonist’s own emotions and society’s expectations of her as a parent causes her anguish, and strains her relationship with her disabled daughter. While society expects her to love her child unconditionally, the mother still struggles with loving and accepting her child as a human, instead of an unnatural being.

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The film highlights the struggles mothers of disabled children go through daily.

Despite the gloomy mood of the film, it ends on a rather optimistic note – the mother turning to her child and asking, “how was your day?”. As the image of the mother carrying her child fades to black, the audience finds a strangely bittersweet taste in their mouths. The post-film discussion comprised mostly of everyone trying to make sense of their confusing mix of emotions – initial anger and sorrow, followed by empathy.

This messy and intensely emotional response is, however, to be expected. After all, How Was Your Day? deals with a complex issue specific to mothers and challenges a convention deeply-rooted in our society. Try as we might, we, as outsiders, will likely never be able to fully understand the protagonist’s situation. All we are able to is to do our best to empathise, and film does exactly this. It gives us a chance to experience life in someone else’s shoes; to feel for and with them – perhaps one of film’s greatest values.

Closing Thoughts

The varying intensity of the reactions observed across the audience members foregrounded the way people relate differently to the films due to differences in their personal experiences. This does not mean they have necessarily gone through similar circumstances; humans are arguably equipped with the instinctive emotional faculties to empathise, no matter how far removed certain narratives may be.

As Tan Yu Han (18A01B) put it, “the fact that you’re watching people who can be in a similar position as you or are pretty much you [creates a] connection with the character.” These characters could then be a starting point for audiences to understand their own emotions, or see the world from other perspectives.

Ultimately, all of us have felt displacement, be it physically or emotionally, at some point in our lives. The universality of it makes a daunting feeling less so, and the sharing of experiences through film reminds us what it means to belong. Teo Jun Hua (19A01A) provided the writers with a simple but appropriately meaningful statement to draw their night at the screening to a close:

“The thing about belonging is not about fitting in, but rather accepting our differences and who we are. […That’s] what truly constitutes belonging.”

It would be worthwhile to keep this in mind as the days lead up to Film Society’s penultimate Film Showcase 2018: 5 Ways to Build A Home on 20 July, where the outgoing Y6 members will be presenting the fruits of their labour.

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Credits

The Six Dollar Fifty Man (2009) – Directed by Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland

Lullaby (搖籃曲) (2018) – Directed by Stanley Xu Ruiyang

Paper Memories (2010) – Directed by Theo Putzu

How Was Your Day? (2016) – Directed by Damien O’Donnell

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