Background: Film Movement is a company that offers movies by subscription, one a month, from all over the world. The tone of the releases varies from month to month but almost all of them are highly regarded and either darlings on the independent movie circuit (especially film festivals) or in line to be so favored thanks in large part to the qualities they possess. This doesn't mean they are all arty farty flicks that few of you would enjoy; just the opposite, most seem to hit home with a disturbing regularity as they address universal themes that many will enjoy. The latest one coming my way was the Year 4, Volume 9 release of Be With Me by director Eric Khoo in Singapore. It's a movie that uses three smaller stories to tell a singular story of love, hope, and the modern age trappings we all find ourselves in, providing some insights worth looking into.
Movie: Be With Me can be broken into three parts as described above; 1) So In Love, a story about a youthful lesbian gal who lives for every moment she can be with her girlfriend, 2) Finding Love, the story of a middle aged loser who falls for someone way outside of his league, and 3) Meant To Be, the story of a woman who can't see or hear and an aging store owner that has lost his will to live with the death of his wife. Each story approaches the subject differently and there is some co-mingling of the characters but not enough to throw the story off the basic themes it addresses, marking a change of pace from the multitude of directors that feel the need to neatly tie things up at the end of their movies as Hollywood seems apt to do.
First off, the movie came about as part of the unusual circumstance that one of the leads, Theresa Chan, met the director at a wedding. She was very old and found out he was a director, leading the two of them to consider making a movie about hope together. As many creative types do, he kept putting it off but she bugged him about it endlessly until he wrote the script for the movie. It should be noted that she's deaf and blind, with the sense of urgency about telling her story that only truly comes in the twilight of life, even though she had never acted before. Her story became the focal point of the movie with Meant To Be; easily the best of the three segments in the movie. In the movie, she had been translating her autobiography to a caring social worker (Lawrence Yong) that translated for her in his spare time. He is amazed at her bright outlook after all of the adversity she had been through, with the viewer getting just a glimpse of the harsh life she had made the best of. His father (Chiew Sung Ching) owned a little convenience store but the loss of his wife weighs heavily on him until the son introduces him to her book in the chapters he's working on. This inspires him to cook for her, leading to them meeting when fate intervenes, giving him a reason to live and her hope for a better day. Because the entire movie evolved out of this segment, it was the best developed and most detailed of the three stories.
Finding Love is the second story of the show. Starring Seet Keng Yew as a middle aged security guard, the story shows his rotten life as roommate to a an abusive brother that he won't stand up to. His boss treats him like an idiot and his dead end job provides nothing for him to care about until he runs across a lady that strikes his fancy on the internet. Initially, he doesn't know what she looks like but he falls head over heels for her, eventually working up enough courage to meet. When he sees her, she is beautiful and he "knows" he has no chance of happiness with her, though he works up the courage to write her about his feelings in hopes that she'll see his inner beauty rather than the lazy slug he appears to be.
So In Love is the final leg of the journey with Ezann Lee and Samantha Tan playing high school cuties that are inseparable. They go everywhere together, do everything together, and enjoy the mere presence of one another though it becomes clear that one of them is a bit too into the other. The initial exploration of lesbianism is interesting, nothing graphic but the undercurrent is plain as can be, but as the one wants more, the other pulls away (eventually having the audacity to start going out with a boy her age and stop returning text messages). The idea of the lesbian stalker might be offensive to some viewers who hate seeing potential role models portrayed as such but the angst she goes through (with a twisted ending) at being shut out and the hope she clings so dearly too had a few interesting moments beyond the obvious. Like Finding Love though, it was painfully obvious that Meant To Be was the star of the show, even if the roots of the themes were similar in each case.
It took awhile to understand what was going on since the editing wove the three segments together with some overlap making it appear on first glance that the stories were more closely related then they were. It was worth repeated viewing in this sense since the little details started to come out better on the subsequent viewings, a luxury that theatre goers didn't have as easy access to (home theatres are so convenient that way). In all, I can see why the movie was the recipient of so many awards, accolades, and consideration for even more of them but there were some failings too. The stark nature of the environment the movie was set in may have been part of the discussion but also hindered some of the ideas presented. The director was very talented at overcoming most of them to a degree but the rough edges were worn like badges of honor and the use of inexperienced actors was obvious in most cases. I'll be the first to admit that Theresa Chan's autobiography sounds like a surefire page turner but the gimmick of using her was a mixed blessing too. Still, Be With Me was definitely the type of movie I look to Film Movement for and the release earned a rating of Recommended as a result.
Picture: Be With Me was presented in the same 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen color it was shot in by director Eric Khoo. Most of the time, the segments were devoid of bright colors, looking harsh as a result but this was a cinematic device more than anything else as the shots of Singapore's concrete jungle were telling part of the story as much as the dialogue did. The visuals added something to the show that vocals couldn't, proving that even a low budget movie can use all the elements at hand to get the message across on multiple levels.
Sound: The audio was presented in a minimalist 2.0 Dolby Digital offering with a smattering of Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, and substantial amounts of English with optional English subtitles. Even without the subtitles, I could follow what was going on thanks in large part to the English on the main track but also due to the fact that a lot of the movie's story was told via the visual elements. The background noises seemed appropriate for big city life, the vocals were clear, and the minimal music helped set the tone of the show better than a little bit.
Extras: As always, the best extra on a Film Movement release was the short film. In this case, the 11 minute short was Two Cars, One Night as directed by Taika Waititi of New Zealand. The short is about two young children who find friendship outside of a pub at night while their parents are getting a few drinks, leading to the hope that they will meet again. It fit in well with the themes of the main feature and was a story very tightly told, drawing from personal experiences of the director. There were some short biographies of the feature's cast and crew, trailers, and a double sided DVD cover as well.
Final Thoughts: Be With Me was not a blockbuster, big budget romantic comedy but it was touching and moving in a way that only a smaller, deeply personal film could be. The direction was very well handled and while the two lesser segments weren't up to par with the main draw of the movie (Meant To Be), they did support the conclusions and ideas it presented the audience. So if you're looking for a good way to spend some time and money, you could do far worse than join Film Movement for this one and movies like it. In all, a good job from those involved.