By Aldo Padilla
Locarno winner Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined poses two stories that play in parallel, with a disappeared Chinese migrant and the investigator of his case. The tale is somewhat similar in structure to some Murakami novels: several unanswered questions, a shadow of a manic pixie dream girl, a sort of mirror between the characters of the two stories and some elements that approach the supernatural or the oneiric. And if maybe in the beginning some clues are being given for a sort of social vindication cinema on the harsh conditions of the migrant Chinese and Bangladeshi workers in Singapore, the film then slowly mutates into a strange hybrid where imaginary characters begin to take control of the disappeared man’s mind.
Strangeness constantly surrounds the film, which at the same time is a reflection of those virtual spaces where the lead character, an insomniac, seeks shelter from the long nights. He’s playing shooters, which turn into virtual spaces he seems to inhabit as a way of escaping a reality that is increasingly senseless and diffuse. The detective looking for him also begins to experience the same states that the man he’s looking for: insomnia, confusion and the search of something that becomes undefined in a certain moment.
The social fable present in the film comes from the tale of friendship between the Chinese protagonist and a man from Bangladesh, who together find solidarity in a relationship that comes with certain moments of catharsis during a dance scene (where the music rhythm can be defined as an object of cohesion).
The irruption of a young Yeo Siew Hua refreshes the limited panorama in Singapore, since little is known (besides Eric Khoo and Anthony Chen) about a country which is economically admired but whose culture is poorly known.
“People don’t read anymore” is kind of an old idea, an idea which is repeated over and over by the characters in Olivier Assayas’ latest film. This may come as an idea which they also seem to refute from different positions of the literary world: as a writer, an editor, an actress and an indifferent politic operator.
Assayas moves away from the caricature of a middle-age generation struggling with the new challenges of the internet, since his characters move comfortably though the technology and the challenges some cultural industries have against the new models of distribution. They also understand these new forms of communications in an artistic dimension, beyond just the communicative side of it, not leaving aside the fact in their minds that certainly, the traditional industry won’t die, and will be complemented by technology. All of this is part of a didactic fun script, verging on parody about the changes the characters face in their love and professional lives, characters who try to recover certain balance in a constant sway. Here the camera moves with freedom, cramming into little spaces of bars and crowded rooms.
If maybe certain erudition in some dialogues can be a bit tiring, it’s remarkable the constant search by Assayas when it comes to question the forms of narration, something that Hong Sang-Soo also does. Here, the ambiguous love relationships that surround the characters of Non-fiction allow us to understand the non-linearity of literature and art in general. In this film, the filmmaker turns to literature to keep questioning himself about the limits of fiction, in a film where an author constantly tries to transform his life in an ideal fiction.
A Land Imagined
Directing and script: Yeo Siew Hua
Cinematography: Hideho Urata
Editing: Daniel Hui
Singapore, 2018, 95 mins
Non-Fiction (Doubles Vies)
Directing and script: Olivier Assayas
Editing: Simon Jacquet
France, 2018, 106 mins