Directed by Daniel Hui
Special Jury Award, 2014 Torino Film Festival
SNAKESKIN opens with a simple image: a camp-fire haltingly coming to life, lighting up the dark screen. It feels like it’s necessary for beginning – as if even having light in the film shouldn’t be taken for granted. In his film about contemporary (and future) Singapore, director Daniel Hui allows himself no conventions or presumptions. He mixes science-fiction, myth, history, diary and interview – whatever’s needed in whatever mutant form necessary. Gorgeous 16mm photography of everyday life gives the counterpoint to strange and hypnotic stories about a cult leader from 2066, a Malay cinema actress, the Shaw Brothers studios, an enforcer, exiles/ghosts, and young activists who are above all charmingly, awkwardly young.
Hui’s approach recalls avant-garde filmmakers like Godard or Chris Marker (there’s even a cat!) but it never feels like he is simply borrowing their tools. Rather, in reckoning with overlapping traditions (including Malay, Chinese, and Indian), inconsistent histories, lies of state and corporate policy, and indeed all the contradictions of Singapore, Hui needs a more sidewinding approach. Watching SNAKESKIN, one becomes convinced: this interweaving of myth, fantasy, and documentary might be the most direct way to describe a place where a multitude of pasts and futures seem to overflow into every detail of the present. –Lev Kalman