Oscars 2015: "Sayang Disayang"

“Sayang Disayang” is a poetic endearment in the Malay language that literally means “Dear, oh dear.”  I learned that a few days ago when I watched the film selected by Singapore as its official entry to this year’s Best Foreign Language Film race.

The movie tells the story of the fractious relationship between Murni, a homesick Indonesian caregiver slash domestic helper and her crabby and disabled older Singaporean master, a widower named Park Harun who sits on his wheelchair all day by the sliding glass door where the curtains are shut and seemingly waiting for someone to rescue him from his loneliness and helplessness. Park Harun resists all basic conversation with Murni and rudely expresses his dislike of the food that she serves him everyday including the traditional Nusantara dish Sambal Goreng. (Nusantara is a region in the Malay Archipelago – I hope I am correct.)

This stirring film, directed by Sanif Olek, is primarily a two-character drama that seeks to show how two people, yearning for comfort and happiness and are forced to live together by circumstances beyond their control (poverty for Murni and disability for Park Harun), gradually overcome the pains, bitterness and disappointments in their pasts by opening their broken hearts and accepting the basic fact about being a survivor – that life will inevitably march on whether we participate in it or not and that despite how hard we hold on to the things that we believe makes us faithful to our past, the present will always assert itself and allow us to choose, decide whether we want to be happy or not.

“Sayang Disayang” is structured in a multiple, fractured flashbacks and uses food and lots of music to tell a beautiful love story hidden in every shot of Murni pressing those bright red chili peppers as she prepares her signature Sambal Goreng dish or of Park Harun napping quietly in his favorite corner of the house next to the picture of his dead wife or of a pair of giant gold fish swimming in a pond outside the kitchen window which, to this writer at least, symbolizes the helplessness of Murni and Park Harun being trapped in a house together with their interaction limited to just her serving him meals or carrying him to his bed or of him verbally abusing her for anything be it food or her singing.

Murni sings to ease her homesickness and loneliness. She sings when she prepares food. She sings when she is doing the laundry. Most of the songs in this movie have cheerful lyrics that evoke of love and the happiness it brings, however, when Murni sings them, it brings forth a sense of prayer, a plea for some sort of release, of liberation.

I loved the movie. It’s simple and I admire how food and music were integrated into the narrative and made the film so rich in symbolic meanings and beautiful imagery. I also enjoyed the performances of the two leads. Aidli Mosbit and Rahim Razali are impressive in their respective roles and I thought the scenes of Aidli carrying Rahim up and down the stairs were some of the movie’s most powerful and moving scenes.

Rating: 4 Stars

Raymond Lo

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