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Be With Me

Posted by martinteller on November 12, 2013

A film consisting of several stories, intercut and intersecting.  In one thread, an elderly grocery store owner (Chiew Sung Ching) somberly lives from day to day, mourning the loss of his wife (Leong Kool Eng).  His son (Lawrence Yong) is a social worker, caring for an old woman (Theresa Chan) who has been deaf and blind since her teenage years.  An overweight security guard (Seet Keng Yew), held in disdain by his brother (Poh Huat Lim) and father (Nh Sway Ah), silently yearns for a woman he doesn’t know (Lynn Poh).  And two young girls (Ezann Lee, Samantha Tan) strike up an internet friendship, and then a lesbian relationship… but one soon begins to feel ignored.

The most interesting thing about this film from Singapore director Eric Khoo is how it blends fact and fiction.  There are countless movies that do so, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one quite like this, where the autobiographical story of Theresa Chan (the film’s inspiration) directly connects to a fictional plotline.  Chan’s story is told through subtitles (no voiceover), sometimes over scenes of the fictional characters.  It’s an unusual blend of fact and fiction where the lines are clear and yet unclear.

Chan’s disabilities would suggest that she has trouble communicating, but she is the most communicative person in the film.  The first line of dialogue (2o minutes into the movie) comes from her, and it’s rare to see any of the other characters speak directly to each other.  The young lovers are only seen talking by text messages, the security guard composes love letters than remain unsent, and I might be misremembering, but I believe the old man never utters a word.

The minimalist approach to the dialogue in addition to the overall theme of emotional isolation brings Ming-liang Tsai to mind, but the tone is too sentimental (and the pace far too fast, although still much slower than the average fare) for Tsai.  Despite the difficulties these characters face, some ending quite sorrowfully, there is nonetheless a hopeful air to the atmosphere.  Part of this comes from the tinkly piano score, part of it from Chan, who bravely soldiers on and manages to make connections despite her sensory isolation.

Unfortunately, I rarely felt involved with the film.  Perhaps the written characters are too wispy to take hold, perhaps the theme wasn’t strong enough.  Also, I found the camerawork to have an amateurish look… the compositions were nice but there was a dingy look to it (possibly the result of a poor DVD transfer) and the edits often felt a little off.  It just didn’t gel into a compelling whole to me, although I found some individual moments to be intriguing, and some to be mildly touching.  There are good ideas here, and I applaud the originality, but for whatever reason it didn’t quite “work” for me.  I find myself respecting the intentions yet underwhelmed by the execution.  Rating: Fair (68)

IMDb
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