In Singaporean director Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined, a Chinese worker at a construction labour camp in Singapore twists and turns on bed every night unable to sleep. In Vipin Radhakrishnan’s Ave Maria, A young taxi driver is thrown out of his single bedroom abode in the middle of the night by his philandering boss, denied of his right to get some sleep after a long exhausting day. Two free-spirited young lovers go without sleep for five nights in Malayalam indie film, Sleeplessly Yours, directed by Sudeep Elamon and Gautham Soorya.At the end of it, the woman disappears and the man finds himself groping in the dark, unable to remember what had caused her disappearance.
At least three films at the ongoing 23rd International Film Festival of Kerala use sleep deprivation as a plot trope. Only timely, since in the post-modern era where work occupies most of an individual’s regular day, a good night’s sleep is an unaffordable luxury to many. In Ave Maria, the protagonist’s sleep-deprivation is an indication of his class identity and his powerlessness which become pivotal factors in his relationship with a young woman he would soon meet on the street. Radhakrishnan’s film proceeds to be a sharp note on the elitist philanthropy of the congregation, and the dark side of life in a holy small town where people arrive to wash away their sins.
A Land Imagined, which won top honours at Locarno Film Festival and Singapore International Film Festival this year, uses insomnia as a noir trope to talk about the severe labor exploitation in the opulent cosmopolitan cities across the world. Wong, a Chinese worker, is reassigned to a lowly duty as a lorry driver after he meets with an accident. The change in work pattern, loneliness and the soulless space mess up his body cycle, and unable to cope with the searing sleep disorder, he starts frequenting a cyber cafe next to the crammed workers’ camp where he lives with several others. The night opens to him a virtual world of freedom which is in stark contrast to his day-life when he is a quasi slave to a construction company that withholds his passport. The film’s visuals have an illusory quality that blurs the line between dream and the colourless reality of Wong.
In spite of their many rough edges, both Ave Maria and Sleeplessly Yours, screened in the festival’s Malayalam Today category, are remarkable works about the youth of today for whom reality is often invisible, wrapped in bright-colored fantasies. The two protagonists of Ave Maria – Rex, a taxi driver, and Maria, an Anglo-Indian theatre artiste – are separated by a thick wall of class difference that they try to cross in vain. In Sleeplessly Yours, the lovers are living in the heart of a conservative city. Their social circle is minuscule, and they don’t belong to the conventional job sector. She is a yoga instructor, and he juggles a journalism career and filmmaking. The experiment of voluntary sleep deprivation that the protagonists undertake in jest pulls down the romantic utopia they had built up for themselves. Their body and mind slide into a state of exhaustion and panic, and the youngsters begin to see how little they know about each other, and how discontent they are in their existence.
The 23rd International Film Festival of Kerala will conclude on December 13.
Featured image: A still from A Land Imagined. (Credit: hollywoodreporter.com)