Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Balada Pencinta [2013]

Director: Khir Rahman
Writer: Khir Rahman
Starring: Johan As'ari, Siti Saleha, Azhan Rani, Syed Hussein
Genre: Drama
Rating: General
Verdict: "It's kind of a mixed bag, but what's undeniable is that it should establish Khir Rahman as one of the country's finest directors..."

Not wanting to spend the rest of his life in the underworld, Amir (Johan As'ari) decides to leave it all behind and amicably splits with his partner-in-crime (Faizal Hussein). He returns to his first love; playing music. This course of action takes him down a path where he would have to deal with his emotions the way he never has to before.

What to Expect
1. Visually-pleasing experience
2. *Top notch performances
3. Masterful direction
4. *Borderline drama Melayu story
5. Memorable and lovable cast of characters

What NOT to Expect
1. Shouty, over-the-top gangsters
Good for what it is, no less no more.
I like Balada Pencinta. It's a reminiscent of movies I like to watch on a rainy night while curled up under a blanket, and the lights dimmed. I don't know if that makes any sense, but that's the feeling I got as I watched the film.

Now, I should also clarify that I'm not in love with the film. While I'm completely taken by its look, I think it falls short in the storytelling department. However, I am also suspicious that it may have been deliberate on Khir Rahman's part, who is arguably known for his... I hesitate to say "cynicism", but that's probably it. More on this in a minute.

Cynicism, and dry wit. You'll see both in this film.

Balada Pencinta is largely a drama, so you might think that the humour will give rise to some tonal issues. In less capable hands, there would be. But in this film, they actually work fine together mostly due to the down-to-earth and subdued performances from the actors - credit, in no small part, goes to the director as well for opting to do it this way. Exactly what does that have to do with anything?

I'll explain.

Pictured above. Three very different films, one thing in common. What do you reckon that is? If you say, "None of the characters feel like human beings", you are right!

I don't know since when, but it has become a very "Malay cinema" trait to go to the extreme ends when they create characters. If the film features gangsters, they have to be loud, flashy and agitated all the time. When it comes to comedies, characters have to be loud, flashy and over-the-top all the time. Drama? Well, one bad thing after another has to befell our passive-aggressive protagonist until things get depressing as fuck.

It must be a recent invention, because I don't remember P. Ramlee movies being that way.

One might even argue that he had already parodied it back in the day.
Drama or comedy, characters in his films all stay within a certain spectrum which makes them believable. Same goes to Balada Pencinta. Now, I'm not saying it's as good as a P. Ramlee classic. What I am saying is, it's a pleasure to get to know the characters - which is a huge deal if you're watching a drama.

There is, however, something incongruous about the lead guy, Johan As'ari. Perhaps it's a subject for debate, but I find his acting to be too "big" or theatrical for a movie like this, and by the time we get to the climactic fight scene, his body language is just weird. Whether or not it's deliberate is also up for debate. It could be Khir Rahman's metacommentary on how leading men often act in films and TV dramas, but I'm probably reading too much into it.

After all, the female lead looked natural. In fact, everybody else did.

Still, it's not too crazy a theory. You will find that Balada Pencinta is made with a sense of irony, and there are a couple of times when it pokes fun at itself. Or rather, at contemporary Malay dramas. You'll see.

With that being said, I do feel like it is somewhat a missed opportunity because the only thing that I couldn't "buy" is the story, mostly due to how it plays out like a drama Melayu, and how the central love story leaves a lot to be desired (i.e. we are told that the two leads are in love, but we don't actually see it).

Which is too bad, because Siti Saleha gives a good performance, Syed Hussein captures my attention every time he comes along, and Azhan Rani pretty much carries the whole movie on his shoulders. Even those who make occasional appearances are memorable, like Faizal Hussein (well, because he's Faizal Hussein), Iedil Putra, Jalaludin Hassan and so on.

It's just that, in my opinion, the characters aren't utilised well enough. Or rather, they don't quite live up to their potential, which in turn could have enrichen its narrative even more. They'll capture your attention the moment they walk in, but when they start to limp out, you might catch yourself thinking, "No, no! Come back! I want to know more about you~"

It's like hearing a joke with a less-than-satisfactory punchline.

So where does that leave Balada Pencinta? Well, like I said, it's not without its flaws, but I certainly appreciate it. It's a technically well-made film, and I have a newfound respect for Khir Rahman. When I saw Anu Dalam Botol [2011], I already think that he's very promising as a director, and his sophomore effort has sealed the deal.

By his own admission, Khir Rahman looks to merge the artsy and the "pop" in an attempt to make the film more accessible to the masses. I think that's a step in the right direction for Malaysian cinema in general, and I'll even go out of limb and suggest that he might be hoping for Balada Pencinta to be his big break as a director.

This is probably just me, but I get the feel like the film is one big showreel for what he's capable of - he can do drama, or comedy, or action, and it would be wrapped up in mesmerising visuals worthy of the big screen. I feel like his best is yet to come. But, for the time being, let's give Balada Pencinta a try.

It's a mixed bag, sure. But is it worth checking out?



Malaysian Diarist said...

Wow, this does sound promising Mamu. The trailers for this did have that whole drama melayu vibe about it and it didnt reveal too much.In fact I wasn't sure at first it was a full length movie or a telemovie. I love Siti Saleha in Aku, Dia dan Tong sampah. She was in KL zombie, and it was so frustrating to watch her role in that because I know she's capable of so much more.

Thanks for another awesome review. First KIL and now am gonna watch TWO local movies in a year. That is a record :) Keep those reviews coming.

Mamü Miguel Ellezda Vies said...

Good to hear that!

And yeah, I do agree that Saleha is a good actor. The writer of Aku, Dia dan Tong Sampah is very much into character-driven stories, so I guess that made all the difference.

As for Balada Pencinta, I'm happy that you'd like to give it a try. Do let me know what you think, 'cause I find it to be a bit of a hit-and-miss, though I don't regret seeing it at all.

The saying goes, "show, don't tell." This film is definitely more of telling than showing, when it comes to the love story. It's a missed opportunity, more than anything.

Adilla said...

Nice review, thanks :). My friends and I just watched this movie.

I agree: Azhan Rani and Syed Hussein were GREAT in this movie.

The contrived and unbelievable love story was due in part to Johan As'ari's poor acting, IMO. I've never seen him in anything else, so I have no idea if he was supposed to have more potential than what he showed in this movie.

The movie was aesthetically pleasing, yes -- there were some pretty shots, and the fight scenes were nicely shot and choreographed! But the writing though ...? It's interesting that you say Khir Rahman might have intentionally written it that way. Now that I think about it, some of the serious scenes were borderline comical, which was weird. I only noticed one instance where the movie was obviously poking fun at typical Malay dramas, but as for the other scenes ... if the director intentionally made them bad, it wasn't obvious enough to me!

Mamü Miguel Ellezda Vies said...

Yeah, this movie is really a mixed bag. For the most part it seems unsure of what it wants to be. Still worth checking out, I say. But a great film it ain't.

Anyway, yeah, I agree with you :)

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