Monday, February 20, 2006

Die Tageszeitung review



Another review in German, this time by the critic Ekkehard Knörer, can be read here. And this is an English translation by Siegfried Ertl, who lives in KL and works in tourism:

Coals instead of communism

Thai Pop rhymes to Agit Prop: Amir Muhammad from Malaysia breaks the rules of documentary films, to save its heart and soul. “The Last Communist” on the Forum.

Amir Muhammad is a young film director from Malaysia, who recently caused a sensation at film festivals around the world with his comic and experimental movies. His work cannot be categorised or defined as one particular genre. ´The Last Communist´ now showing at the Forum attempts to entangle what seems to be incompatible. Muhammad recalls life in Malaysia from the 1930s to present day. In true expressionist fashion, he intersperses this with colourful Thai pop-style video clips.

The story is related in the third person of communist resistance fighter Chin Peng. Born in 1924, Peng now lives in exile. He has been separated from his comrades who have been granted amnesty for their past crimes. Muhammad depicts Peng´s life yet does not grant any screen time to the character central the story.

This is not the movie’s only anomaly. The first principle of "The Last Communist" is digression. It shows places at which his hero (Peng) lived and houses in which he negotiated. The movie jumps back in time through Malaysian history revisiting Peng´s old haunts whilst showing footage of present day activities in these neighbourhoods. While some characters have something in common with Chin Peng, others do not.

Where Peng once lived now stands a charcoal production plant. Whilst reliving the past, the viewer is taken on a tour of the production process of charcoal. Muhammad draws the movie to a climax by drawing attention to life now in the 21st century in small towns and villages in Malaysia. He draws the viewer’s attention to the daily chores and routine of village life.

The larger, more astonishing and often enough stunning anomaly of his film is portrayed through the juxtaposition of Thai pop-style music and a kind of agitprop texts. On first viewing its´ camp- aesthetics overwhelm, with a female singer in front of a waterfall. However, the movie is quite professionally produced. The result is unexpected, yet nevertheless a welcomed interruption and break from the norm.

Clearly, Muhammad does not want to adopt traditional mainstream production values with this film. Consciously, he undermines the traditional values of sequential storytelling and adopts a new twist. ´The Last Communist´ is not an experimental movie for the sake of experimental movies. The movie detracts from the mainstream documentary formula yet remains faithful to its original intention.

The Last Communist assumes a Monty Python approach to storytelling, recalling factual events with amusing graphic forms and images. In the words of Monty Python ´The Last Communist´ is ´something completely different´.

Ekkehard Knörer

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