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5 Mind-Boggling Films you have to watch at Singapore International Festival of Arts' Singular Screens

By Say Peng  /  24 Apr 2019 (Wednesday)

The Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) is an annual arts festival that presents captivating and diverse works across different artistic disciplines, including film.

Singular Screens, SIFA's film programme, which runs from 18 May to 2 June, features a selection of 22 films made by independent and singular directorial visions from Singapore and around the world. 

​Here are 5 films worth checking out.

1. Diamantino

It's difficult to pin down exactly what kind of film 'Diamantino' is.

It's a deft mix of genres, ranging from sports drama, surrealism, comedy, science fiction, and social commentary, all adding up to a film that feels utterly visionary and original.

The film follows our titular character, Diamantino, a soccer player who suffered national disgrace after he missed a decisive penalty kick, resulting in his team's loss. Searching for a new purpose in life, Diamantino, who seems to be modelled after Christiano Ronaldo, adopts a refugee child who is actually a spy, who suspects that Diamantino might be involved in money laundering. Meanwhile, Diamantino's evil twin sisters are plotting to clone Diamantino after their failure to prevent his retirement.

If the film sounds totally wacky, it is. This is by far one of the most inspired films I've seen. The Hollywood Reporter's one-line description of the film, "Perfectly nuts", is entirely accurate.

Directed by filmmakers Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, 'Diamantino' premiered at Cannes' International Critics' Week last year and won the Grand Prize.

2. Demons

One of the two Singapore films programmed for Singular Screens, 'Demons' is director Daniel Hui's off-kilter surrealist take on the master-slave relationship between director and actor. It is Hui's first fiction film following his two documentary essay films, 'Eclipses' and 'Snakeskin'.

'Demons' stars theatre and film director Glen Goei in the role of the manipulative director named Daniel, and Yang Yanxuan as the actress who is a victim to Daniel's psychological abuse. In light of the recent events of #metoo, 'Demons' seems a particularly relevant film, but Hui does not proffer easy good-bad binaries. Instead, he suggests that both the perpetrator and the victim suffer from the effects of abuse.

The film premiered at the Busan International Film Festival last year and at the Berlin International Film Festival this year to positive reviews. 

The Hollywood Reporter describes the film as a "satirical horror film" that is "keenly funny when it isn’t being scary."

3. Chained for Life

'Chain for Life' is another film set in the world of filmmaking, but explores completely different issues. Directed by American filmmaker Aaron Schimberg, who was born with a bilateral cleft palate, the film explores the awkward relationship between abled and disabled actors.

It stars Adam Pearson, who had most famously appeared opposite Scarlett Johansson in 'Under the Skin', as Rosenthal, one of the actors that have been recruited to participate in the film production. 

One of the able-bodied actors, Mabel (Jess Weixler), is paired with Rosenthal and they start to develop feelings for each other. 

But 'Chained for Life' is no straightforward romance. The film blurs the lines between reality, fantasy, and documentary, making us question what we're watching is indeed real life or staged, especially scenes that are very uncomfortable to watch. 

But as the film progresses, we start to wonder if it is really that important to know which scenes are documentary real and which are staged. In the end, perhaps what matters is if the relationship between the actors and characters in the film feel genuine. The film also makes us reflect on our privilege as able-bodied persons and our relations to those who are not.

4. Present.Perfect

Live streaming is an unparalleled mega-phenomenon in China. 

More than 300 million Chinese people watch live-streamed videos every month. It is an industry estimated to be worth billions of renminbi. 

Winner of the Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam this year, 'Present. Perfect', director Zhu Shengze's third documentary, is a collage of found footage from an ensemble of live-streamers.

In an interview for Film Comment, Zhu said that she was "drawn to people doing mundane activities, streaming their everyday lives." And the people that became the subject of her documentary were those who "use live-streaming to connect with others while they’re isolated in real, offline, life."

In the trailer, one of the characters, responding to a question about why he live-streams, says, "What's the purpose of this? No purpose. Just streaming and chatting. I feel bored." That is the most honest, simple, and perfect explanation for this national phenomenon.

But despite this being quite a uniquely Chinese phenomenon, it does bear relation to how people around the world, especially social media influencers, are using social media such as Instagram. Like the Chinese, they are, too, using social media to fill the void in their lives. It's a global and modern malaise that Zhu's culturally specific documentary has addressed.

5. The Dead and the Others

Winner of the Jury Special Prize at Cannes' Un Certain Regard, co-directors João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora's 'The Dead and the Others' follows 15-year-old Ihjãc, an indigenous Krahô from the north of Brazil who escapes to the city to avoid his father's wishes that he follow the traditional path and become a shaman.

The directors spent 9 months living with the Krahô people and this immersion can be felt in the texture and details of the film, one that is further enhanced by its beautifully-shot 16mm cinematography. 

The film is a privileged peek into a world rarely accessed by outsiders, but one which is aware of modern developments but has chosen not to partake in it, preferring to retain their tradition and heritage.

For us living in Singapore, it's a reminder that sometimes we should not progress for the sake of progress. Some things that aren't broken shouldn't be discarded.

Ticket costs $12 each. You can also buy a bundle of 3 tickets at $30, which is a discount of $6. Get your tickets at https://ticketing.sifa.sg/sifa/booking/csifafilms2019
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