Sunday, July 26, 2009

In Memoriam: Yasmin Ahmad

So long. Fare thee well. The dancer and the dancing days have taken leave and fell...

Thus goes the opening lyrics of a wonderful song by Pete Teo in Talentime. Sadly, that movie which I viewed at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival turned out to be Yasmin Ahmad's final film as she passed away last night after suffering a stroke while presenting a proposal for another project earlier this week.

Tributes for Yasmin have already started appearing. I'm not going to add to it much except to urge those who have yet to be acquainted with her body of work to seek them out -- and to point out to those who are familiar with her films that her other work also is very much worth checking out; imbued as they are with that distinctive Yasmin Ahmad mix of absurd comedy along with touching drama, multi-ethnicity and transnational elements.

An example of this can be seen in a recent work for the Singaporean government...

R.I.P. Yasmin. Thank you so much for your wonderful films and the messages behind them. On a personal note: I now am doubly glad I got to meet you earlier this year and tell you that. It's just terribly sad -- not least because Malaysia is so much poorer without you.


Kathie Smith said...

A total shock. I still can't believe its true. I thought of you when I heard the news and your recent encounter with her at the HKIFF. She will be greatly missed.

ewaffle said...

Like Kathie, you were the person I thought of when first hearing of her stroke.

May perpetual light shine upon her--her work made the world a better place.

Stefan S said...

Hi YTSL, I guess with every one of her fans pointing out her body of works to others, her legacy will truly live on.

I still am finding it hard to accept that she's no longer with us :(

YTSL said...

Hi Kathie --

I got some preparation in that I learnt on Thursday of Yasmin having suffered a stroke. But I still was 90% expecting her to recover.

It's a privilege that you link me to Yasmin Ahmad. And yes, she will be greatly missed -- among other things, as a truly Malaysian exemplar.

Hi ewaffle --

I really hope that her work makes the world a better place. I, for one, would love to live in the world of her movies -- not that they're perfect but they really were/are so full of hope and loving.

Hi Stefan --

I hope her legacy will live on for years, if not decades. And not just in film but in terms of how Malaysians look at and deal with their fellow citizens.

Anonymous said...

It's sad that Yasmin passed away so soon, when she clearly had many more stories to tell.

What impressed me the most about her work was the way that she presented multiculturalism as perfectly natural and needing no justification whatsoever.

While her films spoke directly to Malaysians, her message rings true with anyone who believes in our fundamental commonality as human beings.

ewaffle said...

Just watched "Funeral" again this time with my wife who is more committed to living in a multi-ethnic, culturally diverse society than anyone I know. She was bowled over by it as was I--for the third or fourth time.

One of the aspects of this short film that shows Yasman Ahmad's genius is, as duriandave points out above, that multiculturalism is perfectly natural and should be taken as given. The "should" is her very undidactic, non-hectoring statement that she makes with such ease in "Funeral". One knows that she must have worked very hard on it to make it look so easy and natural.

The widow is Indian (or at least South Asian) clothed in a version of traditional dress, speaking perfectly idiomatic English with a definite but very pleasant to hear accent. Her husband is Chinese (one assumes since this is in Singapore) but definitely East Asian.

Those who came to honor David's life and mourn his death are a cross section of South and East Asians, possibly with a Caucasian or two. They are arranged as people generally are at funerals in a way that allows individuals to comfort others or be comforted and without regard to race or ethnicity.

Some of the couples are duo-ethnic some mono-ethnic. The elderly Chinese couple who are featured more than anyone else among the mourners could be David's parents and are both moved and comforted by their daughter-in-law's words.

The children of David and his wife--early to late teens it looked to me--must be a Chinese/Indian mixture. Their mother says to them only that she hopes they will find someone as imperfectly perfect for a life partner as David was for her.

Yasmin Ahmad's use of the term "life partner" seems interesting because it could also be a slightly coded way of referring to the gender of the partner, saying it is OK with her if it is a same sex union. This is a very western interpretation and it may mean something else entirely in the Singapore of Lee Kuan Yew and family.

One can be sure, though, that every word, camera angle, light placement and everything other detail that went into this 60 second masterpiece was on film because Yasmin Ahmad wanted it there.

I am just beginning to realize how enormously talented she was and how important she must have been to the people of Malaysia, Singapore and the world.

Brian said...

She had become one of my favorite contemporary film directors with her unique outlook on life which she tenderly depicted with enormous warmth and charm. I can't think of anyone directing these days who wove so much quiet humanism throughout their films. She had a vision of a better world that she wanted us all to live in. If you have not seen her films - catch the wonderful Sepet Trilogy and Mukhsin. RIP.

YTSL said...

Hi duriandave --

Agreed re your comments about it seeming as though there were still so many stories one could expect from the storyteller. Also, as wonderful as her completed works are, I actually felt that the best was still to come from Yasmin Ahmad.

Hi again ewaffle --

Thank you so much for your extended comments re Yasmin. They make for very interesting.

And I have to say that I'm very heartened to learn, in part from the commenters on this thread, that non-Malaysians could "get" her charm, talent and messages -- seeing as that even while she wasn't exclusively talking to Malaysians, it was done in such a Malaysian way -- i.e., culture specific and multi lingual.

(As an aside, I love the original trailer for "Sepet" but decided against linking to it because I wondered whether many people could deal with quite a bit of it being in languages besides English and wondering whether non-Malaysians would realise the utter shock -- good but a shock all the same -- of seeing a Malay girl in tudung at the same time as a Cantonese song plays over the visuals.)

Hi Brian --

"She had a vision of a better world that she wanted us all to live in."

I have to say that I loved and shared that vision. And, again, I urge people who haven't done so to try to watch her work -- and if not her films (because of lack of international distribution), then what's been posted on Youtube.

eliza bennet said...

God rest her soul in peace and give patience to her loved ones.

Sepet is the only film of hers that I have seen and I liked it very much.

YTSL said...

Hi "eliza bennet" --

You saw a very good example of Yasmin Ahmad's work in "Sepet". I remember being so bowled over when I first viewed it -- it was so Malaysian and yet because of that, it was such an uncommon film made by a Malaysian filmmaker.

To give you some idea of what I mean: Would you ever have known from watching his films that Tsai Min-Liang is Malaysian (as opposed to Taiwanese as most people think)?