I have seen “The Last Communist”!

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chin pengThose who have not seen this movie – and yet have seen fit to criticise it – are jumping to conclusions, says CY, who did manage to catch the flick.

Lelaki Komunis Terakhir (The Last Communist), directed by Amir Muhammad, was one of the films that participated in the 19th Singapore International Film Festival  on 13-29 April 2006. It was shown at a packed auditorium at the Alliance Francais (AF) in Singapore on 27 April (We could not get the seats we wanted). It was later shown to the public at the Picturehouse (operated by Cathay Cineplex Pte Ltd) in Singapore. Both screenings were rated PG (“Parental Guidance”). Lelaki Kominis Terakhir was treated as a normal, usual, “acceptable” film and it did not cause result in any undue governmental attention or political outcry!

Why ban Lelaki Kominis Terakhir? I have seen it and even stayed on for the Q&A session at the end of the show. I have encountered neither “controversial” nor “sensitive” elements in the documentary. The questions raised during the Q&A did not reflect any concern about the “danger of communism”. I am confused: why the ban?

I am not a movie or documentary critic, and I assume that those who watched the show or will be watching it are no different from me. I assume that my opinion and feelings about the movie are the same as many others’. Now, let me tell you – those of you who will unfortunately not get the chance to watch the film – about its contents.

Charcoal and petai

The film was shot in chronological order based on issues relating to the Communist Party of Malaya. Interviews were carried out with people around the areas where communism gained ground. The film first showed an Indian youth selling ais kacang and speaking in Bahasa Malaysia.  He related stories about the history of his family life, about Sitiawan town, and nothing about communism.

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The following scenes were shot more or less in the same style: interviews with people from all walks of life, from different ethnic groups including a Chinese charcoal industrialist explaining how to make charcoal; a Malay man who collects petai (a long, flat green bean with a peculiar smell) from the forest, telling his stories of work with his former employer; Indian petai sellers talking about different types of petai and their usage; an old Chinese man talking about the Japanese occupation; a young Indian youth speaking fluently in Hokkien and talking about his life; and an Indian woman who works in an oil palm  plantation telling her stories about subsistence living.

All the interviews were so plain and, to a certain extent, even boring. Hardly any one of them can be linked to communism except two interviews (if I remember correctly) with a Malay girl student from the Sultan Idris College who criticised communism and its threat to the nation, and a Caucasian writer, who wrote on communism.

In between the film, there were songs sung by a group comprising different ethnic groups, while a girl sang some other songs. The lyrics of the songs contained different issues and were sung according to the contexts and time periods of the movement of the Communist Party of Malaya, such as the ideology of communism and the period when  Identity Cards were introduced by the British to curtail the Communist Party.

The film does tell stories about Communist history in Malaysia/Malaya. For example, the crew went to Baling to shoot the negotiation process between the Tunku Abdul Rahman’s and Chin Peng’s delegations. There were no real life actors but only figures of prominent men drawn in cartoon form with background narrators imitating the conversations during the negotiations. The conversation was purely about the rationale used by both parties on matters concerning the disarmament process. This in itself does not warrant a public outcry about the dangers of communism.

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Harmless content

The final section of the film skirts around the lives and (his)stories of those who were directly involved with Communist issues, including the collaborators of the British, and some members of the Communist Party of Malaya who now live on the Thailand-Malaysia border. One of the stories was about the experience of an old Malay man who quite candidly related stories of his enchantment with the female communists, the recruitment of communists, his involvement with the British in catching the communists and the reward he received.

The subsequent interviews focused on the historical telling by communist members about their hiding spots in the forest, the cooking area, their reasons for joining the Communist Party, views on the political scenario during their time, and their personal views of the choices they made. The film also showed the lifestyles of the communist members and their publications. It ends with a gathering of Communist members showing their solidarity and commitment to communist ideas.

I might have missed out some of the contents and details of the film. But my point here is to showcase the content of the film and to illustrate that it was not a controversial movie. It does not cause any fear or angst; neither does it threaten or advocate communist cause. It might stir a sense of sympathy for those members who  are still not allowed to set foot on Malaysian territory and a sense of respect for those who still believe in their fight with no regret.

So, why ban Lelaki Komunis Terakhir? I am confused because the film is not oriented towards communist propaganda. More confusing is that those who have not watched the film are already jumping to conclusions while the autocratic decision in banning a film is a blow to freedom of expression.

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CY is a research student at a university in Singapore.

 

 

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