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SULTANMUZAFFAR (26 Februari 2002 - sekarang)

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Entri oleh sultanmuzaffar 25 March 2004

MATA RABUN TAPI HATI CELIK: AN APPRECIATION OF YASMIN AHMAD’S RABUN by Hassan Abd Muthalib
(A paper presented at CENFAD's ASPECT:RATIO CLUB on 19 Feb 2004)


INTRODUCTION

'Entertainment and enlightenment are ideally (if not deviously) interconnected.' - JONATHAN ROSENBAUM

Entertainment is treated more respectfully than art because it has more to do with making money. The artist is confronted with a choice - to be true to himself or run with the pack. With the emergence of the novel in the 16th century, storytelling took a new turn. Those unhappy with the world began to express themselves. GULLIVER’S TRAVELS by Jonathan Swift was a veiled attack on the mores of people who felt that they were above others intellectually. But the story entertained nevertheless, and for the discerning ones,
enlightening. As Jonathan Rosenbaum has remarked, entertainment and enlightenment can be (deviously) interconnected.

Cinema has been around for a little over a hundred years. Though quite a number of Hollywood’s prodigious output is mindless entertainment, a few gems, nevertheless, have emerged. The Oscar award winners have been mainly those films whose stories were adapted from novels. And these have always been films that were strong on character.

What have we learned about film characters and the art of film storytelling over a hundred years? Are Malaysian films and filmmakers moving forwards in the art? Is RABUN worthy to be discussed as having entertained and enlightened us?

YASMIN AHMAD’S RABUN

'It’s not what happens to you but your reaction to what happens to you that determines your character.'
- DALE CARNEGIE


I do not for a moment believe that RABUN is only a story about Yasmin’s parents (as she has always contended). Just like Zhang Yimou’s, HERO and the director’s explanation of his use of colours, I consider Yasmin’s statement a red herring - one that disguises her real subject. The myriad colours of HERO had no real meaning. The meaning lies in the
calligraphy scroll that enlightens the Emperor. HERO is an anti-war film, commenting on the current state of affairs in the world. The culprit is not the leader. It is the faceless men who advise the Emperor. Like P Ramlee, Yasmin is concerned about her race. Like P Ramlee, she is calling upon them to change. And like P Ramlee, she is lemah dan lembut in her call. This approach is what makes RABUN interesting. And the character of her parents, as observed by Yasmin, is indeed interesting. Their world view is exemplary. They have discovered the secret to living a life profound – that life is too short to be little! Her parents, and Yasmin’s film, not only entertain us, but also enlighten us. In the
words of Aristotle: Stories guide us as to how to live our lives.

YASMIN’S CHARACTERS

'True character, deep character, is shown in the choices a human being will make under pressure. The greater the pressure, the truer the choice is to character.' - ROBERT McKEE

The lotus is a Buddhist symbol of purity: To be in the world but not of the world. Maintaining calmness amidst chaos and turbulence - this perfectly describes Mak Inom and Pak Atan. Their daughter, Orkid and her boyfriend, Yasin will carry the baton (as the markers in the film show). At the end of the film, all the characters gather to play, forgetting their trials and tribulations. This world will become a better place to live in if we react positively towards the things that happen to us (at least, according to Yasmin).

Yasmin’s characters are very ‘P Ramlee’ – easy to identify and understand. It is perhaps this reason why P Ramlee’s films are a hit with everybody. RABUN is deceptively simple but in reality, very complex. Yasmin uses binary opposition throughout but very subtly. We see Yem and his step-mother about to perform the dawn prayer. Strangely, we never see Mak Inom or Pak Atan ever doing it (being religious does not necessarily mean that one is spiritual).

Mak Inom and Pak Atan are like Forrest Gump. Good-natured innocence will enable us to survive, and even prevail. YASMIN begins with the voices of children playing – and ends with adults playing. If only the grown-ups’ hearts could be like children, wouldn’t such enter the Kingdom of God? I may not share YAMIN’s total optimism, but I give her the right to dream of a world where good people live and their lives inspire us to do better, as Kurosawa showed in the final episode of DREAM. Likewise, Yasmin is using cinema to create a world that corresponds to her desires.

RABUN’S TREATMENT

'If you want to know what a filmmaker is saying, look at how he is saying it.' - INGMAR BERGMAN

Yasmin uses a formalist approach. One needs to pay attention to the patterns that Yasmin creates – what the characters do and say (including what they do not do and say), their reactions, their mannerisms, their dress, the cinematography, the editing, the use of sound and music – in order to appreciate the gestalt. Her story is multi-layered, details start to accumulate and form patterns. And in those patterns lie meaning. To find the story, observe the characters and their portrayal. The real story is in the style.

RABUN begins with a very long take of a tin in which are rubber bands. Children are playing ‘hit the tin.’ We never see the children at all – only hear their voices (contrast this with the end where the adults are seen but we do not hear their voices). This is an exercise in getting the audience involved by forcing them to visualize the characters. This method foreshadows Yasmin’s approach to storytelling.

RABUN is a radical break from the typical Malay drama or film. There are numerous long takes, non-diegetic sound in the form of voice-overs of people talking (also in long takes, but we are never lost as to who are actually talking). Voice-overs allow audience involvement and are more effective than the usual approach found in local telemovies. Distanciation (a la Bertolt Brecht), provokes objectivity – and in turn, contemplation of the subject.

CONCLUSION

Christian Metz had it wrong when he said, Cinema and narrativity is a great fact…but it was never predestined. According to the Muslims, when Adam was created, his first act was to sneeze and he exclaimed: Praise be to God. Christians would exclaim: (God) bless you, upon seeing someone sneeze. The Creator is invoked in both religions. The first shot ever taken in the world was, coincidentally, that of a man sneezing. If for everything there is a reason, then surely cinema must be a grace from God - for us to learn from the foibles of man as personified in the film’s characters. Characters that man’s art has ‘created’ with the ultimate objective of better understanding our world. Andre Bazin has said that the cinema screen is akin to a window through which we see the lives of others and in turn, we see our own lives reflected in them. Shouldn’t that be the function of art?

There are many scenes in RABUN that cause us to contemplate the lot of man. But nothing is more poignant than the scene of Mak Inom applying liniment to the body of Pak Atan, who had fallen down in the midnight chase of Yem (this scene is contrasted with an earlier scene of Yem and his step-mother. She calls out to him but gets hit by Yem in anger). As Mak Inom applies liniment, Pak Atan plaintively sings the song, Tg Katong. MAK INOM puts her head on his chest and cries silently, articulating her unspoken grief through the song’s lyrics: Sama sekampung, hai lagi dirindu…. Yem, Nor, Inom and Atan are all of the same kampong. Why should there be discontent and disharmony. Aren’t we all of Adam – whether Malays, Chinese, Indian or Thais. Shouldn’t living in peace and harmony be our ultimate aim?

Pak Atan mistakenly spoke to Mr Yap’s wife thinking it was Mr Yap. He can be forgiven, for he is rabun, but what about Yem, who is not? Can we forgive him? Pak Atan kills a blood-sucking mosquito on his arm, saying, Adios, amigo. But what can he do to a human blood-sucker in the form of his relative, Yem?

Yasmin has used cinema as a substitute to create a world that corresponds to her desires – one where there is no discord or enmity. Her plea is for us to do the same.

THE END

HASSAN ABD MUTHALIB is a scriptwriter/film director/animator, and lecturer in film and animation. He is the facilitator of The Film Forum of Kuala Lumpur which frequently presents papers on film.

Rabun I
Rabun II
Rabun III
Rabun IV

Nota: Nantikan Ulasan Rough Cut Sepet dan tayangan Sepet sekitar bulan Ogos !

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