THEY say, each shot of the camera takes away with it a bit of the soul.
But of course. Human memory isn’t like film. To remember is to recall dynamic audiovisual impressions, manipulable moments; scenes which feed of the imagination and shifts in perspective.
In an episode of Black Mirror, photographic, replayable memory leads a couple to ruin — The Entire History of You‘s protagonist, a young husband, goes through another man’s memory to verify suspicions about his wife. A digitised mind cursed with an inability to forget or rework details, like a camera, pushes him to reduce his relationship to one occasion of infidelity, captured, preserved and archived.
It is no wonder then that Iva goes to great lengths to destroy negatives of her tribesmen in Interchange.
Unraveling like an allegory bejeweled with breathtaking glimpses of Prisia Nasution, Dain Iskandar Said‘s latest directorial effort is a strange and mysterious tragedy of souls. Interchange establishes many questions across 110 minutes; a single viewing may not suffice to answer them all. Unlocking in visual cues and mythology, the film is also unlike anything you have seen from Malaysian filmmakers.
Soon after a lip-syncing drag queen finishes her song, a bizarrely murdered body is discovered at the nightclub. Man, the detective on the case, has seen a similar scene. He goes to seek Adam, the forensic photographer turned hermit since his previous experience witnessing the body from a similar killing. Adam reacts negatively to shards of a glass plate found at the crime scene. But indebted to Man who has kept him on the payroll, Adam leads the Metropolis to the crime scene of a previous murder, helping collect more shards as evidence. Soon, they discover these were parts of now-obsolete photographic plates.
While hiding from the outside world, Adam develops an interest for photographing the inhabitants of the apartment blocks surrounding his unit. He is drawn to one woman from the opposite block, directly across the chasm separating their homes. With a mounted camera, he unknowingly intrudes upon her as she uses a tribal dagger to burn her thigh. Soon, she notices him, and both develop a connection.
Iva soon draws Adam to a photo studio he used to visit as a child. Adam’s picture is still on the wall. Iva and studio owner Uncle Heng (Chew Kin Wah) exchange looks; both are familiar. Uncle Heng promises to help Adam develop the glass plate negatives, claiming it will take a couple of days. Man however catches Uncle Heng exposing the plates to Sani (Nadiya Nisaa), an antique store dealer, but is refused access into the working room without a warrant. In Sani’s store, the mysterious, hooded Belian draws Adam to a book of Norwegian explorer Carl Lumholtz‘s 1911 photographs of Bornean tribesmen.
From here onwards, nothing is what it seems. Adam experiences the strange and the grotesque for Iva, who charms him into swapping allegiances and derailing Man’s quest. Man looks through Adam’s viewfinder and finds his friend on the other side of the chasm. Belian risks his own life to keep Man from interfering with Iva’s work.
Interchange’s rapid twists give the story an illusory quality. Dreamy and often thrilling, it trawls through the darkest corners of Kuala Lumpur to bring viewers on a beguiling treasure hunt.
Apparat‘s morbid new film leaves viewers perplexed but hard at work to tease out clues. There is much to reflect upon digestion, but what is Interchange actually about?
Intruding upon Borneo’s diverse natives with his camera back in 1911, Carl Lumholtz took photos of Bornean tribesmen and brought them along his travels. These photos only said so much about its subjects, still a mystery to many in the early 20th century. But without any context or knowledge about the land and its inhabitants, these were pictures of savages as far as the first world was concerned.
The source of the Tinggang’s grief, Lumholtz’s negatives, keeps Iva on her mission. Trapped in these photographic plates are the souls of her Tinggang tribesmen. They no longer resemble Lumholtz’s images — Iva and company live as modern humans complete with private residences, full-time jobs and secrets. Iva has been traveling around the region to find her fellow tribesmen and bring them home.
But 100 years from when they entered this dilemma, this place that they remember as home no longer exists. And so Iva bewitches her victims, Belian drains their blood, and Iva smashes their negative with her dagger.
With each ritual killing, Iva destroys two images of her tribesmen: the original, captured at the source and held within Lumholtz’s photographic plates, and the corrupt, consequence of a different world. The latter might very well be a jab at colonialism. Lumholtz’s trip is depicted to have brought disharmony to the Tinggang people; he also displayed a degree of disrespect to their customs by photographing women who were washing themselves off the “evils of being photographed”.
As a result from his trip to Borneo, Lumholtz brought the souls of these tribesmen out of their homeland via his photographs, forcing them to remain and adapt to the world long after their own homes have vanished. The Tinggang people have grown far removed from their original selves to the dismay of the souls trapped in the glass plates — their silhouettes weep from within the negatives, awaiting release through Iva’s bizarre ritual.
But this is all just speculation. The beauty of Dain’s new film lies in its complexity, detail and openness to interpretation which means a lot more speculation can result from subsequent viewings.
There are things that could have been done better — Sani’s characterisation seems detached from Interchange‘s universe while it is unfortunate that the film’s weakest CGI sequence concludes the ride — but Dain as a Malaysian talent shows admirable imagination and ambition as far as local storytelling is concerned.
Drop by the cinema to solve this puzzle but remember: viewers who pay close attention are sure to be rewarded. Make sure to share what you think Interchange is about in the comments section and let’s get the ball rolling.
Follow Interchange on Facebook for more information! Interchange is still playing in Bukit Tinggi, Mid Valley and Mutiara Damansara.