NOVEMBER 18 ― In what is an already pretty strong year for Malaysian films, with titles like Imaginur, Polis Evo 3, Hungry Ghost Diner, Tiger Stripes, and even solid genre fare like Coast Guard Malaysia: Ops Helang, who would have thought that one of the absolute best would be a satirical rom-com, a Malaysia-Singapore co-production from the director of Banting (that hijabi female wrestler movie from 2014) and starring big hitters like Sharifah Amani, Shaheizy Sam and Wan Hanafi Su.
Yet that is exactly what writer-director M. Raihan Halim has delivered here ― an audience-friendly confection with plenty of other things on its mind than to just entertain the crowd.
On the surface it looks like your typical mainstream kampung comedy, but straight away you’ll notice that something is off with the setting.
It may look like it’s set in your typical Malaysian kampung, but the name of the village, Kampung Bras Basah, is quite clearly Singaporean.
Raihan messes around with our minds further when the camera moves wider to reveal very un-Singapore things like paddy fields and wide natural vistas.
And when the characters in the film start talking about the rules and laws in the village, it’s pretty clear that the whole setting is a fantasy, a fictional creation based on some bits of reality, but very much a place that doesn’t exist.
This fictional setting gives the whole filmmaking team ample room to construct a parable that’s fully loaded with satirical aims at all sorts of things, from patriarchy to dictators and beyond.
The basic story is simple, Kampung Bras Basah is a Muslim community led by village head Tok Hassan (an excellently evil Wan Hanafi Su), which has some pretty strict rules in place, but made a lot more draconian by how Tok Hassan interprets it.
Shaheizy Sam plays Salihin, the police chief, a single father to his nice but rebellious and budding feminist daughter Azura (Syumaira Salihin, doing even better than her solid work in Mentega Terbang).
Iedil Dzuhrie plays the young village imam, Ustaz Fauzi, whose attempts to make his sermons more interesting by inserting jokes were immediately shot down by Tok Hassan, who said that God’s teachings are not to be joked with.
It’s a village where women not wearing the hijab in magazines are censored by manually drawing a hijab on top of the photos, and one can only imagine what will happen when a city girl like Hanie (Sharifah Amani bringing her headstrong girl persona from the Yasmin Ahmad films) arrives and opens, of all things, a lingerie shop in the village.
With a “No Men Allowed” sign outside her shop, it becomes a safe space and refuge for the women in the village, but not before initial resistance from them, of course, with gossip spreading around that the lingerie shop has contaminated the purity of the village.
Before you shout “liberal” in the film’s face, I think it’s awfully clever and tasteful of Raihan to make this one of the very few allegorical films where Islam is a major presence but that’s actually not about religion.
In fact, the allegory, the parable even, is about how leaders weaponise things like rules, laws, religion and censorship to hold on to power.
This is clearly and cleverly illustrated by the many incidents and sub-plots in the film, but none more so than the satisfaction the audience feels when Ustaz Fauzi finally gets the courage to tell Tok Hassan that the one he should be obeying is God, and not Tok Hassan.
But don’t let all this talk of allegories and parables make you think that this is a serious and boring film.
If anything, the tone, acting style and visual presentation of this film really reminds me of the raucously funny and entertaining Tiga Janda Melawan Dunia.
The cast has tons of fun selling the film’s many raunchy jokes (the film is, indeed, centred around a lingerie shop, and what are those mainly for if not to spice up your sex life? “Bras basah” aka wet bras, anyone?), which were presented in a very chaste manner, and Namron, for me, absolutely stole the show even with very limited screen time.
The romance that develops between Salihin and Hanie will also make any die-hard rom-com fan proud as both actors sell their chemistry together really well, making the audience really root for them. And how cute is Azura and her boyfriend Yazid?
Yes, the sub-plot involving the husband and wife played by Nadiya Nisaa and Hisyam Hamid can feel really dangerous and scary, and again kudos to Raihan for managing to balance this mixture of tones really well, but it’s the exact element of jeopardy needed to make this mostly feel-good story come even more alive and feel more grounded in reality, despite the film’s nature as a parable.
A bold and expertly executed mixture of both mainstream and indie sensibilities, La Luna is the Malaysian-Singaporean film you never knew you needed.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.