My Daughter -- Film Review

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BUSAN, South Korea -- Love-hate relationships between mothers and daughters are usually the stuff of soap operas gushing with emotional outpourings. Charlotte Lim breaks the mold by employing abstract and mannered film language in her depiction of a young woman's ambivalent concern and disgust for her mother, who is stuck in an abusive affair.

Photogenic sets and colorful locations culled from Malaysia's historic city Malacca -- and a dash of poetic fantasy -- may enable "My Daughter" to coast along in festivals and art houses. Due to its coldly unaffecting tone and the characters' tendency to slip into silence and inertia, audience reaction could be apathetic.

The minimal cast, enclosed interiors, elliptical narrative and medium-to-close-up shots emphasize the intimate, insular world inhabited by protagonists Faye (Lai Fooi Mun) and her unnamed hairdresser-mother (Chua Thien See). They are largely confined to their home. When they go out, they pass through unpeopled terrain such as empty lanes, open fields and demolished sites filled with rubble.

There is a hint of lesbo-eroticism in their intensely physical interactions. They quarrel and slap each other over the scandal the mother causes, or reverse roles as the mother behaves like a spoilt child while Faye nurses or berates her. Mostly, they are framed in supine positions, sleeping in broad daylight or lost in trance-like reverie. Even a turtle lies on its back in slumberous pose.

Significant matters are imparted in mannerist visual modes. The mother reveals she is pregnant during a long take of the two eating a durian in a stylized, symmetrical composition. Another turning point is obliquely inferred from the scraping sound of windscreen wipers. Watching this can be a numbing experience.

Male roles have a shady presence. The film opens with the mother leaving her lover Mayi (Lee Tien Chueh) after a beating is heard off-screen, but he is not seen in the flesh. The rattan chairs he later offers as a conciliatory gift come to symbolize his intrusion into their space. Faye's only other interactions are with her silent carpenter boyfriend Hai (Lam Wen Haur) and a driving instructor who shows a lewd interest in Faye's mother. Neither offers dramatic counterpoint to the women's relationships.

Bright, luscious colors redolent of tropical lands become welcome aesthetic diversions, especially in the surreal, dreamlike last scenes.

Pusan International Film Festival

Production and Sales: Paper Heart and Patis Films
Cast: Lai Fooi Mun, Chua Thien See, Lee Tien Chueh, Lam Wen Haur, Chee Cheong Hoe
Director-screenwriter: Charlotte Lim
Producer: Yan Sen Michelle Lo
Director of photography: Sung Wen-chung
Production designer: Lee Tien Chueh
Music: Ng Chor Guan
Editor: Kok Kai Foong
No rating, 76 minutes