First Takes - 'For Rent' by Goh Moy Yen


One day, one room HDB flats will be the bane of student films. It would be a zone forbidden by film lecturers who will mark your thesis film down for lazy choice of premise. 'For Rent' interviews 2 sets of people who stay in one-room rented HDB flats - one is an ah ma and the other is a Malay family of a few children. The common thread is that they have been evicted somehow from their previous residence by HDB and are forced to seek shelter that elsewhere.

The straight-laced documentary features these people in a set of interviews, interspersed with each other. Treading on extremely safe grounds, it takes us through their issues in logical fashion, seeking to open up the audience's minds to a different world such as this. Between the 2 stories, Ah Ma is the more forgettable with its familiar themes of old-age poverty and neglect. The second story captures more of our imagination because of it portrays an anomaly - over 10 people squeezed into a small HDB flat. On a personal note, it rakes up memories of living in the 70s or 80s where it is not uncommon to be sharing sleeping space with your siblings or cousins on a few sheets of mattresses placed together end to end.

Blissful as it seems, the film does not forget its bittersweet point - that the father of the household, which is borrowing their relatives' premises, hopes to give his family their own flat one day. The film had its poignant moments but it does not add anything to a collective understanding of this brand of poverty. We have seen these stories before and what's worse is the Malay stereotype of big familes and small budgets being played out again. While ghetto films never seem to go out of fashion, the filmmaker could certainly do with less format and a lot more angle.

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