Filament 2010 - Masperati by Valerie Toh

It was like being caught in the middle of 3 conversations. What a way to kick off Filament’s annual grad showcase. On one thread, there is the theme of domestic abuse, on another, is a Orwellean debate on cultural assimilation. The final thread is really a conversational autopsy (about the disappearance of their friends) between 3 filmmakers whose feelings tend to cloud our perception of the issues.

Are you already muddled? Well, ‘Masperati’ is a fictional town where people live in a sort of homogenous bliss, where pecularities are not tolerated and there is no concept of ethnicity. Its residents accept, with ambivalence, the unspoken rules of living what seems like a pseudo-utopia. 2 people brave some uncertain risks to document life in ‘Masperati’, interviewing people and sneaking forbidden shots into their camera. In their stay, they capture undercurrents of fear and an overriding sense of ‘cultural-genocide’. Unfortunately, their trip became fateful and all that was left was their footages.

The film operates on several levels and in fact, too many for a clear message to emerge. The re-creation of a culturally homogenous village is a brave attempt at realizing a hypothetical concept that may look awkward on screen unless it is meticulously directed. What appears in ‘Masperati’ is a more casual, free-wheeling play with a loose concept. The shoddy appearance of the production also points me towards the thought that I should appreciate it for its ideas. What is clearly and strongly delivered is the disturbing issue of cultural assimilation. I also like the fact that they did not overdo the utopia ‘look’ in the re-creation. It just looked like a remote village.

However, what diluted its message was the conversation between the 3 filmmakers which served to guide our understanding of what happened. I felt it did the opposite. 2 viewpoints were presented - one feels it is simply domestic abuse while the other discerns cultural killing. They don't quite measure up, in fact, the former seems to inconsequential to the point of the film. This makes one wonder what the point of the disagreement between the viewpoints is for.  

Getting lost in the village of Masperati is a intriguing, unnerving and even spooky experience. But there is something very compelling in it that leads you on to explore further. It even leaves you with questions about the society we live. But getting lost in the film 'Masperati' is less of a fulfilling experience. Literally following the arguments and the narrative leads to nausea. It seems a lot more can be felt when a lot less is done.

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