Watching a dystopian film is often as terrifying as it is fascinating. I mean, how could we not feel a little anxiety experiencing the demise of a world so familiar to us?
The fear quickly subsides though, once the realisation hits us that a film really is just a film. We know full well that the very idea of a Two Minutes Hate session is absurd and that people in the real world don’t wear Guy Fawkes masks while blowing up buildings. What comes next with this realisation is then a strange form of pleasure we derive in watching the terror and suffering that could be.
But perhaps what truly makes for a terrifying piece of dystopian fiction, is one that resembles the future of our own home.
Here to do just that is Selam, a short film by Mien Ly branded under the genre of ‘rempit sci-fi’. Initially produced as a pilot for a miniseries, the short was then altered slightly and edited in black and white for its entry into the BMW Shorties 2017, where it won the awards for Best Cinematography (Khairil Bahar), Best Actress (Ameera Ramlee), Best Production Design (Encik Daerah) and Best Sound Design (Ashwin Gobinath).
A special screening of the Director’s cut and extended version film, coined Selam 2.0, was held in The Bee at Publika on the 20th of July. It was the film’s public debut and also the very first time it was screened in colour.
Selam 2.0 is set in the not-too-distant future where rapid overdevelopment has left the nation in ruins. Members of society are segregated, strict curfews are enforced and women caught outside their designated tents are killed.
The world of Selam is a bleak one, often reminiscent of the familiar dark tones we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in several dystopias. We are introduced to the universe of Selam in the elegance of all its ruins. With all its dark hues and dingy setups, it is understandable why the film was originally edited in black and white. Nonetheless, Khairil Bahar’s exceptional work in cinematography and Bani Abdul Hamid’s efforts in production design present to us the beauty of a nation in ashes. The dim tones complement the rusty and grim feel of many scenes. The few hints of colour we do see serve its purpose greatly, enrapturing every scene with their vivid intensity.
In the film, we follow Majid (Yuna Rahim), who, after losing his sister, finds himself in a penyelam (scrap diver) workshop. Desperate to find his sister, he blackmails the workshop’s best penyelam, Wan (Ameera Ramlee), into helping him.
Yuna Rahim and Ameera Ramlee both exhibit evocative performances and share exceptional chemistry with one another. Megat Shahrizal who plays the workshop’s leader, Atuk, enthralls each scene he walks into. His conduct as the solemn yet intimidating leader proved a solid execution. Other talents include Alfred Loh, who plays Razman, another of the workshop’s penyelam who becomes irate with Wan. He holds his role lividly, exhibiting a notably convincing performance.
Also prevalent throughout the film are the familiar cultural sounds of instruments like the tabla and gamelan. The boomy tones resonate with the film’s desolate aura and is deserving of the acclaim towards Ashwin Gobinath’s work on sound design.
When explaining his inclusion of traditional sounds in the film’s score, Gobinath said, “we used it to inject cultural influence in a world without culture”.
Audiences familiar with Mien Ly’s previous works such as Harga Cinta (2008) and Happy Massage (2010) will perhaps recognise her familiar theme of focusing on issues of the marginalised and gender.
She came up with the idea for the Selam universe after meeting actual ‘penyelams’ who’s jobs were to go out each day looking for bike scraps they hoped to be useful. Also inspired by several other works such as Star Trek and Blade Runner, she decided to imagine the future of Malaysia through the perspective of the ‘penyelams’.
While the premise of Selam 2.0 is incredibly compelling and had me intrigued throughout, I couldn’t help but feel as if the story was a tinge incomplete once the credits rolled up.
The plot felt somewhat underdeveloped and lacked sufficient dimension in its characters, which is understandable upon considering that the film was initially meant to be a pilot. In this sense, Selam 2.0 has succeeded in setting up a gripping and enthralling universe I am intrigued to explore even more of.
Some would argue Malaysia is already in a dystopia. With its segregated societies and strict censorship laws, we are not a far cry from the premise of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story. Regardless, Selam 2.0 presents to us a riveting sight of a nation in ruins. It provides an alluring appeal amid its grim settings that will leave audiences wanting more.
If reading this review has you got you intrigued, you’d be glad to know that you can watch the first version of Selam that was submitted to the BMW Shorties 2017 here
And to get updates on the Selam universe, you can follow them on Facebook
Featured Image Source: Selam