Friday, March 31, 2006

Le Fils

What is it about fathers and sons that engages us so? This remarkable Belgian movie Le Fils (The Son) again explores the deep and conflicting emotions that often engulf both parties in unexpected ways. Except that the movie is more than just about a father and his son; it's about a son in search of a father. It is also a disquieting story about forgiveness; disquieting because it speaks about restoration and the simmering tension that accompanies it.

Le Fils tells of a carpentry instructor in a vocational school for teens. We see the man Olivier, touching middle-age, diligently working and obviously passionate about his work with the kids. Before long we are confronted with an anxious man ducking along corridors, peering through windows, and behind hallways, at something or someone we have no idea of. Then he goes home to a sparse apartment that reveals the man is living alone. No wife, no children.

Back in the school the object of his anxiety becomes apparent: a teenager Francis has just enrolled. Why the furtive looks? What’s behind Olivier’s nervous obsession? Later, we meet a woman whose awkward conversation with Olivier about her pregnancy tells us she was once his wife, but who is now living with a new partner and is happily expecting.

[Plot spoiler alert!]

The story unfolds very slowly. There is no music throughout, but the film nevertheless succeeds in building up suspense. We find out that Francis had just been released from prison, after serving time for the killing of a child in a botched up robbery. The victim was Olivier’s child. It is this uncomfortable knowledge (unknown to Francis) that leads the audience to anticipate some concluding explosion or resolution.

Le Fils is a tale of an “ordinary man dealing with extraordinary emotions” as one reviewer says. I must add it is well told. The hand-held camera is unflinching in its close-ups, and without pretension or artifice, focuses on the inner turmoil of a man treading the path of grace. It’s a modern-day parable about redemption, replete with metaphors and imagery that are biblical in proportion. Disturbing too. They point to our own God who loved and forgave the ones who put his son on the cross.

However I thought the abrupt ending was too, er, abrupt. Then again, the filmmakers probably saw greater merit in challenging viewers to confront the inexplicable: why would a man accept his son’s killer? Indeed as his ex-wife asked in one emotional confrontation, to which Olivier replied, “I don’t know.”

But that’s grace: unconditional, to a point of being unreasonable. It’s costly, but it’s never cheap, in the words of Bonhoeffer. Which I think Le Fils conveys very admirably.

Le Fils was written and directed by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.
Read the Guardian’s interview with the brothers here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

International Movies

Thanks to a friend, we got to know about KakiKino, a company that’s screening international movies at the FINAS complex along Jalan Hulu Klang near the National Zoo. Film screenings are on Wednesdays while the last Saturday of every month features Directors in Conversation following a screening of their films (Past Directors include Yasmin Ahmad, Deepak Menon, and U-Wei). What’s great is, admission is FREE – with refreshments thrown in at the end of the movies.

Previous screenings in February include The Sea Inside, Ray, The Pianist, Downfall, and Angel By My Window/Bukak Api.

In March: Maria Full of Grace (8 Mar), Le Fils (The Son) (15 Mar), Schizo (22 Mar), Monday Morning Glory (25 Mar), La Nina Santa (29 Mar).

We caught the thoughtful Belgian award-winner Le Fils which was screened to a crowd of no more than 50 that evening. But more about it later. Here’s an excerpt from an email sent to all on the KakiKino mailing list:
It is with great pleasure that we wish to announce the return of the international film screenings that we used to organise at the Asia-Europe Institute, UM.

There have been many changes over the last few months, especially since Gareth left AEI. First of all, four of us (Gareth, Wan, Khadijah and Noorshah) have established KAKI KINO as a film consultancy through which we hope to encourage progressive film culture in Malaysia.

More importantly, starting in February the new home for the film screenings will be the National Film Development Corporation (FINAS) which is located next to Zoo Negara in Ampang. We are very happy with this new arrangement. The FINAS Director General, Fauzi Ayob, is keen to encourage a more vigorous engagement with world cinema and the screenings are part of this new direction.

The film screenings will take the same format as before. International films will be shown every Wednesday evening at 8.30 pm, while the last Saturday of each month will be used to showcase the best of Malaysian filmmakers. As usual, we will be providing a short introductory talk, programme notes and refreshments (hurray!). Admission to all films is free.
I'm afraid you'll have to write to KakiKino at if you want more information (they don't have a website). The full address for the film screenings is:

Auditorium P. Ramlee
National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS)
Studio Merdeka Complex
Lot 1662, Jalan Hulu Kelang
68000 Ampang
Tel: 4108 5722 (FINAS)

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Lead singer Raymond from the band Albert’s Phobia commented that it was not often that churches organize a rock concert. Well, we’re glad to have hosted one and did we have a rockin’ time. To many, “sex, drugs, rock, rock and roll” may be inseparable, an altogether decadent triad, but I do think we’ve got to redeem the music. We can, and we did.

In previous years we held what was called the 'Expressions Concert,' an annual evening featuring mainly classical performances on piano and violin. By the end of our third year, we had a veteran jazz band tagged on to the evening’s proceedings, to spice things up. We’re a little adventurous this year. And the concert is no longer polite tinkling of ivories. This year, it’s YouthRock featuring four bands: Pathfinders, Altruists, Lighthouse, and guests Albert’s Phobia.
The initiative was largely put together by our church band (Pathfinders, previously known as Transl8) to provide a platform for bands to jam and for kids to have good clean night out. We had both that evening. Four mostly new bands performed, with special guest performances by Albert’s Phobia, the resident band from YouthBelieve, a youth church near Setapak.

Okay, so they were all amateurs sounding a little like Green Day, Jem, Hillsongs, and U2 thrown together. But you’ve got to give it up to these guys who played their hearts out and even performed original numbers as well. The evening ended with a rousing jam session playing Hillsongs’ anthemic One Way, with the audience singing along. Cool. Here’s looking ahead to the next concert!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Cracking worldviews

The thing about preaching is that it does not take place in a vacuum. We are all children of our culture. The challenge is not new of course. But it reminds anyone who presumes to be God’s spokesperson to speak in a language that addresses the culture of our age as much as its crisis . The drama of redemption will only be meaningful if it is communicated in plain language, sympathetic to the hopes and desires of its hearers. Bishop N.T Wright’s sermon on Jesus and the Kingdom has this to say:
The Jews of Jesus’ day did expect NOT that the space-time universe was going to come to a stop, but that God was going to act so dramatically within the space-time universe, that the only appropriate language to describe it would be the poetic language of a world taken apart and reborn.

Now Jesus inherited this tradition – the tradition of strange, dark symbol-laden speech to be decoded or unpicked. What did he do with it? He turned it into short narratives that we call parables.

He told stories that have many dimensions to them. And by telling those stories he cracked open the worldview of his hearers, and he forced them to come to terms with God’s reality breaking into their midst doing what they had always longed for but doing it in ways that were so startlingly as to be hardly recognizable. The parables are Jesus’ own cryptic commentary on a crisis – the crisis faced by Israel, the crisis brought about
now by Jesus’ own presence and work.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Telling stories

Preaching as storytelling? Well, not exactly. Then again, why not? Jesus told stories. In a post-literate age I have always felt a need to review how best to communicate essential truths in new ways. The didactic passages obviously require a more ’formal’ or expository approach, but the Gospels in particular, lend themselves to stories.

So with these thoughts in mind, I made my way to Rev Dr Richard Jensen’s preaching workshop at BLC. Public speaking - much less preaching – has never been easy although I do a lot of both. How do you engage a jaded and media-saturated congregation anyway?

Interesting sessions, and I'm really glad to be present even if I was the only Free Church guy in a room full of Lutherans (Thanks Sivin for the invite). "Ears need orality," so says Dr Jensen. Someone once said that public speaking is really a kind of theatre of the mind. Making a connection in the heart, mind and soul is theatre. Conviction, on the other hand, is something that only the Spirit brings about.

Read/Hear/Watch Dr Jensen here.