Falling for Angels: the Films of Yasmin Ahmad
A director like Yasmin Ahmad doesn’t come around often. Not just because she is a successful Muslim woman director in Southeast Asia, or that she is as much a household name amongst ordinary Malaysians as she is amongst followers of Asian art cinema. Rather, Yasmin somehow transformed the way Malaysia looks at itself, as fervently as she found a cinematic voice that is uniquely hers. In other words, she married form and content, the political and the personal, and the populist and the erudite in a way that should be the envy of any director.
Yasmin’s is an unabashedly passionate cinema, devoted to love, family, god, and community. In her legendary commercials, she jerks tears not just through the efficient melodrama onscreen, but also through our jubilation in seeing a master storyteller so committed to the prospect of making us swoon and cry. In her features, too, we so often find ourselves stopped in our tracks, surprised by the sensation of our feelings, wondering where within us that untapped, buried sentiment is flowing from. And it’s that surprise that is most magical about Yasmin’s work, which jauntily skips from comedy to melodrama, and from observant realism to romantic fantasy.
Her films famously tackle inter-ethnic romance to explore how a nation can learn to love itself in all of its supposed imperfections. Feeling most at home in the romance genre perhaps accounts for why she’s not well known in the more cynical international art cinema circuit, though her films were regular fixtures of European film festivals.
And so, FALLING FOR ANGELS: THE FILMS OF YASMIN AHMAD presents her work – her three final features, her last short, an assortment of her commercials – in only the third-ever retrospective of her work in the U.S. On the occasion of a new documentary (Yasmin-San) about her legacy, we remember Yasmin the way she wanted to be remembered: through her films, which continue to stir the heart.
Yasmin Ahmad / Falling for Angels: the Films of Yasmin Ahmad / Malaysia / 2008 / drama / 80 minsRohani and Rohana are new to town, possibly runaways. Rohani, the elder, is Muslim but works at a pub. The young Rohana talks back at school by citing verse numbers nobody can decode. Schoolteacher Brian, a lapsed Catholic, takes an interest in the sisters, lending a watchful eye. Befitting Yasmin Ahmad’s unique empathy, MUALLAF is at once tenderly religious and secularly political, and she holds both together with her signature brand of light humor and delicate sentimentalism.
Yasmin Ahmad / Falling for Angels: the Films of Yasmin Ahmad / Malaysia / 2006 / drama, romance / 95 minsAt school and on the soccer field, ten-year-old Orked prefers to tumble with the guys, though things get complicated when she meets Mukhsin, a boy with a quiet, gentle smile. Between bike rides and tree climbs, Orked and Mukhsin develop what adults would call love. But in director Yasmin Ahmad’s eyes, their budding relationship is something at once more chaste and more profound: the discovery of one’s capacity to impact another life.
Yasmin Ahmad / Falling for Angels: the Films of Yasmin Ahmad / Malaysia / 2009 / comedy, drama, music, romance / 120 minsIt’s talent show time! The Chinese Kahoe puts pressure on himself to beat his Malay rival. Melur keeps her auditions a secret from her ever-judgy family. And the handsome Mahesh, who can’t hear or speak, intuitively comprehends every heart-pounding note pouring out of Melur’s songs. “I’m falling for an angel,” she sings to him, her mouth pointed to his face across the room so he can read her lips. And so the stage is set for young love, family discord, and the music that binds everyone together.
Edmund Yeo / Falling for Angels: the Films of Yasmin Ahmad / Japan, Malaysia / 2017 / documentary / 70 minsIn 2016, Japanese director Isao Yukisada went to Malaysia to make a short film. YASMIN-SAN captures moments on the set and witnesses filmmakers from two cultures with a torturous colonial history coming together as collaborators, not unlike the surprising friendships in Yasmin Ahmad’s multicultural dramas. Less a documentary about Yasmin than a documentary about her enduring spirit, YASMIN-SAN honors her through films that, nearly a decade after her passing, continue to bear her name.
Preceded by: CHOCOLATE