Director:  Yasmin Ahmad
Year: 2007
Rating: 8.5
Country: Malaysia

Yasmin Ahmad is something of an anomaly in Malaysian cinema where most films seem to fall into two very distinct camps – crass commercial fare directed primarily by the Malays and arty static box office poison directed usually by members of the Chinese community. The trilogy of Orked films directed by Yasmin straddles these two camps with its slow quiet reflective narratives that are amusing, poignant, romantic but above all optimistically humanistic in their depiction of the multicultural Malaysian society. And they do quite well at the box office. At a time when there is a widening global antagonism and distrust between the Islamic world and the Western world, Mukhsin is a perfect oasis of needed sanity in which Islamic culture is given an immensely normal, gentle and humane face. Whether this was the main intent of the director isn’t clear to me since this is not so much the gist of the film but what surrounds it, what permeates it, what gives the film a powerful underlying resonance. Yet I don’t think this message is primarily meant for outside consumption, but is in fact directed at her fellow Muslim countrymen. There has been a growing rift between the Muslim majority in Malaysia and the large Chinese and Indian communities due to some Muslims pushing for laws and customs that more reflect a conservative interpretation of the Koran – and Yasmin appears to be quietly crying out for a return to their liberal tradition of tolerance in which a girl and her mother can dance together in the rain, women can attend a soccer game (something which a recent Iranian film pointed out can not happen there) and a boy and girl can fly a kite together.

This is the third film in the Orked trilogy – the other two being the wonderful Sepet and Gubra – but this one goes back in time to 1993 when Orked was 10 years old and living in a small village called Kuala Selangor. This is the story of her first crush. Orked (Sharifah Aryana) is a no nonsense little tom boy who prefers playing rough with the boys to being with the girls. Her mom (Sharifah Aleya – real life sister of Aryana) and dad (Irwan Iskandar) are extremely indulgent of their little girl and the family along with their maid (Adibah Noor) are as close knit and lovable as a nest of chipmunks. During a school holiday, the 12-year old Mukhsin (Mohd Syafie Naswip) comes to the village to stay with his old housekeeper since his parents have split up. After Orked passes his test of toughness, he allows her to join the boy’s games and the two become fast friends over the lazy warm days and cicada filled nights that follow. Scenes slowly melt into one another with poetic flashes of home life, friendship and faith on display – dancing, riding a bike, reciting the Koran and flying a kite are lovely moments of harmony and beauty. Very little of any dramatic purpose takes place in the film – it is just a nostalgic look back at innocence when somehow the world seemed so much simpler and kinder. It is a wonderful film that very quietly grabs hold of your emotions and is only weakened by an unnecessary side story involving Mukhsin’s older angry brother. When I took this film out at the Viewing Room in Pusan, a fellow who I had met a few days previously saw what my film choice was and just said “Mukhsin! God I love that film”. And now so do I.

Written Up Nov 2007