By Sofia Jesus
Stories can be told without words, everyone knows that. Just as much words can tell other things besides narratives. They can be powerful even if unspoken. Even — perhaps even more — if not understood.
In A Useless Fiction (2015), an overwhelming experimental short film by Macau director Cheong Kin Man, memories are made of sounds from the environment around him interwound with words from different languages — the director’s words and others’; spoken and written; original and fruit of a translation. The usual image seems secondary — but, again, one’s absence can be as strong as one’s presence.
“If there is the filmed, there must be the non-filmed,” the first-person voice-over narrator — the director — tells us.
“Please don’t ask me where I come from. My home is very far from here. Why am I so restless?” These words are sung beautifully in the opening of the film by Hsu Shi-Tien, in a reinterpretation of Echo Chan and Li Tai-hsiang’ Olive Tree (1973). Her voice, which, to me, somehow sets the tone of what lays ahead, floats over a black background with white letters and characters, and over the sound — so familiar to us in Macau — coming from Sheung Wan MTR station in Hong Kong.
The author’s experience as a translator — but also as an anthropologist and a curious traveller — is shared with the audience in a 31-minute reflection that, I believe, takes us on a journey of (mis)communication.
I would say it is a strange journey— confusing at times — made of beautiful details: such as the flow of faces staring in silence at the camera, as if waiting for an order to start talking, unaware of how much that uncomfortable wait, those suspended words, were already saying to our imagination; or as the post-it put in front of the lens, so as to reproduce the feeling of one looking at the sun with one’s eyes closed, as the director generously explains in the film.
For me, this art film — which has won several awards internationally, including the “2015 Rising Star Award” in the category of experimental film at Canada International Film Festival (Vancouver) — invites us to reflect on identity in a multicultural experience. And, while resembling a poem, Macau’s history is there, as if subtly whispered at us.
It is not an easy film to watch, though — much less to write about, but I wanted to share it in hope that those of you who may not have seen it yet will. It is a film that has so much to absorb — with the voice over and the text manipulation — that it must be watched more than once. “The film is like real life,” the director told Die Welt last year. “If you look at me, listen to me, you are ignoring the whole world.”
In the end, I was somehow left wondering to reflect on a journey of my own — a journey deeply marked by languages: the one I am one with — that speaks uncontrollably through my fingertips; the one I tiptoe in; the ones I struggle to grasp and yet are home.