Dir/scr. Daniel Hui. Singapore. 2024. 103mins
The opening moments of Small Hours Of The Night time set up a distinctly Kafkaesque setting: a darkened workplace with an emphasis on restricted objects (an ashtray, a rotary phone, a tape recorder) and unsettling glimpses of a tough nook of the room. This units the stage for the interrogation of a lady detained for initially unspecified causes by a person with whom she might share a painful previous.
Equal elements political critique, psychological drama and cinematic puzzle
Daniel Hui’s minimalist movie attracts on true occasions in Singapore’s historical past, particularly a 1983 trial which noticed the brother of a deceased political dissident prosecuted for offering a ‘subversive’ tombstone inscription. But the presentation is studiously unreal. Shot in excessive distinction black-and-white, that is equal elements political critique, psychological drama and cinematic puzzle.
Displaying in Rotterdam’s Harbour Programme, Small Hours Of The Night time hails from the revolutionary movie collective 13 Little Footage, which has produced plenty of notable Southeast Asian indies together with Yeo Siew Hua’s post-global noir A Land Imagined (2018) and Tan Bee Thiam’s Tati-esque satire Tiong Bahru Social Membership (2020) – each of which have been acquired by main streamers. Given its austere type and expectation that the viewer is supplied with some data of Singapore’s social-political growth, Small Hours Of The Night time could also be extra of a competition merchandise. Nonetheless, it has an opportunity of piquing the curiosity of a smaller distributor or platform with experimental leanings.
This chamber piece happens inside a secluded detainment facility and opens in the course of a wet night time with an unnamed younger man (Irfan Kasban) shrouded in shadow whereas pensively smoking a cigarette in his workplace. When prisoner Vicki (Vicki Yang) is escorted in, his manner flits between that of interrogator, psychiatrist and bureaucrat as he asks her a collection of questions on her troubling behaviour.
Their tense back-and-forth initially dwells on the anxieties of confinement: Vicki has been pacing round her cell after hours and is satisfied that there’s a new detainee subsequent door, which the person denies. A forthright if fragmented testimony regularly unfolds. Vicki’s account of her political awakening is intertwined with the historical past of Singapore’s notoriously strict authorized system, which has handed down extreme penalties for comparatively minor offenses or infractions.
Because the night time attracts on, identities and time intervals blur to create a way of temporal displacement. Though a gap title card declares the setting because the late Sixties, contentious authorized proceedings of the Seventies and Eighties are referenced, whereas inconsistencies in Vicki’s experiences point out that she is a composite of varied real-life defendants. This makes the movie a uniquely distilled indictment of the system of management utilised by Singapore since 1965, when it separated from Malaysia to realize independence as a rustic.
Utilising Brechtian distancing in a way that evokes the Sixties works of Nagisa Oshima, Small Hours Of The Night time ruminates on such themes as reminiscence, the regulation and private narratives over the course of three prolonged actions and an epilogue. An illustration of energy dynamics and a fusion of identities is achieved by not often having characters share display area: Vicky is initially stored off-screen, with the visible concentrate on the person as he asks questions and reacts to her elucidation of a dream wherein she is trapped in a darkish gap. When the detainee lastly comes into view some 40 minutes in, it’s throughout an influence outage with the room illuminated by hypnosis-inducing swirling search lights from exterior. After taking up a bodily presence, Vicki asserts her company in staggered vogue, in the end expressing defiance towards an oppressive regime.
By way of paranoid environment, Small Hours Of The Night time actually makes essentially the most of presumably restricted sources. Looi Wan Ping’s putting chiaroscuro cinematography recollects such black-and-white marvels as Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s Suture (1993) and Géla Babluani’s 13 (2005). This heightened visible sensibility is intensified by Akritchalerm Kayalanamitr’s sound design which accentuates the whirring of the tape participant, the ticking of a clock and the relentless downpour to intimidating impact.
Regardless of demonstrating a powerful management of technical parts, Hui’s course of actors is much less profitable. Efforts to elicit performances that function in tandem with the hallucinatory visuals and the usually trance-like preparations of composer Cheryl Ong end in more and more monotonous line readings. Though a tearfully dedicated Yang is actually locked-in to her amalgamated protagonist, her nearly drone-like supply might in the end exasperate viewers who needs to be enraged by the plight of these she is representing. Consequently, Small Hours Of The Night time drags after a suitably arresting opening, however continues to be commendable as a politically and stylistically daring therapy of historical past.
Manufacturing firm: 13 Little Footage
Worldwide gross sales: 13 Little Footage, email@example.com
Producers: Bee Thiam Tan, Daniel Hui
Enhancing: Daniel Hui
Cinematography: Looi Wan Ping
Music: Cheryl Ong
Primary forged: Irfan Kasban, Vicki Yang, Dan Koh, Ivan Tran