By Jessica Lim
Another film. I stared at the time duration and saw “13 minutes and 6 seconds”. I walked in.
The room was barren. A long, white bench was positioned right in the middle and a screen was placed at the front wall, with two curtains, of leopard print design, draped at either side of it. I stared, and turned towards the door.
A melodious, upbeat tune suddenly started floating about in the room, and in a moment I was on the bench.
The world of leopard prints, the distinctive feature of this so-called ‘Panther fashion’, is nothing new to Singaporeans, thanks to Ris Low. Moreover, ‘Panther Design’ is a huge fashion trend in the local and global fashion scene. To watch a film about the development of the Leopard-print fashion trend? Seriously no, thank you very much. I am not interested. But my butt would not budge.
So the film started, opening with a foreign scene which seemed like it might be set in Italy. Then I saw the oriental carpets and copper tableware. I was wrong.
Well, the artist, Gülsün Karamustafa, is from Istanbul, Turkey, and the filming was done there. Oh, it is about the fashion scene in Turkey. Or so I thought.
I watched, I marveled. This film is not what I had imagined it to be. It captures and reveals more than what I expected, and impressively, the entire thing is executed without any dialoguesor major, complicated cinematic techniques. Only a few informative texts punctuating the action periodically. I pondered, I understood, and it stuck onto me strongly.
It is a comical tragedy, a fictitious story about three women yearning to indulge themselves in the world of the ‘Panther Fashion’, but their desires have to be hidden and suppressed because of cultural values, rules and societal constraints. These city girls willingly endure anxiety and fear, in exchange for a few precious, ‘illegal’ hours of personal time in a clandestine gathering where they can savor the happiness of indulging themselves in Panther fashion without any restraints. They just want to enjoy something that is not possible in their ‘real life’.
The journey towards their destination is fraught with trepidation and uneasiness; their heads turn constantly, their eyes dart about relentlessly as they move in swift, silent paces through the streets and alleys.
They arrive, they enter, and all was worth it.
From prim and proper, they transform into unrestrained, ostentatious individuals indulging in cheese, chocolate, wine and clothes, leopard-printed ones obviously. Shedding off their daily uniforms, they put on their ‘wild-cat’ attire, laze on the beds and floors and idle their time away with the accompaniment of booze, canapés and girl-talk. Sadly, at the end of the day, they have to disengage from their fantasy world. They leave, once again in secrecy, and resume their mundane lives.
Well, the subject matter here is quite irrelevant in Singapore’s context but could we not just look at it in a broader perspective?
Now, get the picture?
Everyone has their own perfect, imaginary, little world they yearn to have, where scrutiny and judgments from others do not exist, with no standards to adhere to, no laws and rules to follow. It does not matter how unattainable, chaotic or naïve their illusory worlds are, because it is their world. Right? Yet, as much as one can fantasize, the cruel truth remains: dreams never, almost never, become reality. Wrong?
The exaggeration of the aforementioned state of affairs added that soft, whimsical touch, amidst the tragic reality being highlighted in the short film. Beyond the normality of everyday life, there are actually individuals who are being repressed and forced into their way of living. Although they fulfill their roles and obligations, at the same time, these people want to be freed from the dictation of their tradition and rules. The women in the film are the voices of these people, not only in Turkey, but they speak for all such individuals in the world.
Seriously, I agree with Holland Cotter’s words, I do not think you need a translator to understand that; It is quite a universal language. Thank you Miss Karamustafa. Alright, back to the film.
The show begins at a leisurely pace, conscientiously building up towards the peak, where it reaches a plateau for a while before easing off at the end. The rhythmic structure accentuates the impact of the moving figures. It first hooks the audience, draws them in and then, leads them on further as the plot thickens. The catchy beat produced by the striking of the guitar chords gave that extra punch to the movement of the characters, and helped arouse attention to the otherwise seemingly ordinary film which many would just sweep over and move on.
It did that to me. I admit, maybe it is because I had low, or no expectations to begin with, and thus the impact was so much stronger than it would have been if I had anticipated something. But does that matter? The truth is, I enjoyed it.
The City and the Secret Panther Fashion is neither exciting nor pulse-racing. The performance is also not dramatic or emotional. Yet it kept my eyes glued to the screen. Miss Karamustafa employed a subtle approach to bring forth her stand. The contrast between the simplicity of the work and the intensity of the message felt very refreshing. The flow of the film was so logical and uncomplicated. It just wants to get the idea straight across to the audience without needing much guesswork. It was as if she’s saying, “Do away with all digital enhancements and sound effects, omit the twists and turns, stop the obsession with details! This is about the bigger picture, about real life.”
I like that.
Well, on a side note, here is an interesting point being observed: There are no males in the entire film; not a sign, not a trace of the opposite sex. Another message the film is trying to hint?
You figure it out.