OCTOBER 28 — In case you missed this historically important bit of news back in May, a Malaysian film has finally managed to bag a major award at an important sidebar of the Cannes Film Festival.
Tiger Stripes was awarded the Grand Prize (basically the Best Film award) at this year’s edition of the Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival.
It quietly opened in ONE Malaysian cinema (in Midvalley, for those interested to investigate further) last week, probably as a formality to qualify for Oscar submission.
But even this limited release has caused quite a few controversies on the internet, chief of which being director Amanda Nell Eu practically disowning the censored version of the movie that’s being released here.
The fact that the movie has been censored here has then led to some parties making all sorts of wild claims and speculations on what’s been censored, even if some of them have admitted to not having even seen the film in the first place.
Censored or not, I’m simply not going to miss the chance to see this history-making film in a local cinema, and if you’re in any way interested in the history of Malaysian filmmaking, I suggest you try and catch this one as well, as it’s still playing in that one cinema this week, albeit with fewer showtimes compared to last week.
So, now that we’re done talking about the controversies, is the actual film worth the hype (and that big Cannes prize) or not?
Let’s talk about the cuts first. Quite a few times this year I’ve praised the new ratings system by LPF, the local censorship board, especially when it comes to the blood and gore that’s been allowed to be shown in horror flicks like Evil Dead Rise and even Renfield in Malaysian cinemas.
It seemed like the people there have finally understood what a ratings system is, and what the age-based restrictions entail.
The great shame with the censorship of Tiger Stripes, which at the end of the day plays very much like a hugely funny Mamat Khalid movie, but with 12-year-old kids as its main characters, and with a bit more satirical bite (because the main characters are kids), is that even though the whole story/narrative was left undisturbed, the spirit of the movie definitely was.
It is, in short, a story about a bunch of young kids grappling with puberty, with the main character Zaffan (a glorious, star-making performance by Zafreen Zairizal) particularly struggling as she becomes the first in her school to get her period and later on discovering something even scarier as she tries to cope with the changes happening to her body.
Menstruation, and the physical changes that come with puberty, is nothing new in coming-of-age horror films, as I’m sure most of us have seen classics like Carrie and Ginger Snaps.
Even the Disney-Pixar hit Turning Red had this metaphor front and centre, and to be honest, Zaffan’s dilemma here is more like the one in Turning Red rather than the two aforementioned films.
And it is here that I found the censorship decisions surrounding Tiger Stripes frustrating. I may not be a girl, but I can tell you that a lot of the things that I saw in this film, from the way the adults behave when trying to “control” and “impart their values” to the kids, and of course the kids’ raucous behaviour, I’ve seen first-hand when I was a little kid in primary school in Ipoh.
From the way other kids make fun of the “smell” of the first girl who got her period at my then school, to the way the teachers punish and make fun/humiliate the “naughty” students at the school assembly, I’ve seen all this play out before my very eyes.
It is, very much, real. So, for Amanda Nell Eu to have made something this close to real-life experiences, and I’ve read somewhere that she made this especially to share with other girls her own fears while confronting puberty without proper sex education, is basically a gift for all the young Malaysian girls out there.
Never mind the genre/horror elements of the film, in which Zaffan eventually transforms into a tiger (a metaphor perhaps, for her “monstrous” behaviour, as seen/described by the adults), Tiger Stripes is, however you may look at it, a social comedy/satire that pokes fun at the adults surrounding Zaffan, from the headmistress Cikgu Sabariah (Fatimah Abu Bakar) to the influencer/bomoh (healer) Dr Rahim (a very game Shaheizy Sam), the gentle ribbing is done in such a funny and entertaining way that I can’t help but think of the late Mamat Khalid’s social comedies.
In short, it’s a movie about a teenage girl struggling and fighting for her right to just be who she is, and it celebrates not only her autonomy, but in its own grisly metaphorical way, her anatomy as well.
It’s just such a shame that such an exuberant celebration has scared some of us enough to censor and make up controversies about the film.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.