“There is no one I respect more than my audiences.”
With that one gutsy punch line, 25 year old Daniel Hui opened his debut feature, Eclipses.
There is no better way to start talking about the film than from its title – deceptively simple yet so rich with meaning and thought. Structurally, the film functions in two wholes, the first being an apparent fictional story about a woman (Vel Ng) mourning the loss of her husband; the second, where the woman disappears, splinters into a documentary about the people around her (Vel) and the filmmaker.
Yet, save for the abrupt cut to black in the middle of the film that signals the film’s transition, or eclipse of the initial other, the film’s fiction/documentary dichotomy holds little bearing to genre defining labels. Here, the lines between documentary and fiction are blurred not because of the film’s apparent schizophrenia, but because the filmmaker sees little difference between the two.
With Eclipses, Daniel seeks to make a film that transcends cinema or what little has become of it, rather than to conform. Cinema appears to have forgotten its roots as a medium to document, to listen, to simply, allow for its audience to see what they want to see rather than to tell them what to see.
At its heart, Eclipses is a film that reflects a process that is deeply rooted in kindness. Daniel shares that Eclipses was made after a hiatus and disillusionment from filmmaking after the passing of his close friend, Yasmin Ahmad. Almost none of the film was scripted because Daniel simply allowed the performers to say what they wanted to say. Daniel did not want to be taking something away from his performers, he wanted them to be giving something instead. Eclipses listens to its performers because its filmmaker listens. In turn, the audience is put into a conversation with both the film and its maker.
A common aesthetic thread follows through Eclipses from Daniel’s earlier films, and that is his wide use of the close-up. Two particular close-ups stood out for me – both of which were monologues, the first delivered by Vel Ng and the second, Daniel’s grandfather.
Never before has cinema spoken to me in ways as such, and the experience from having two characters speak straight to you is both liberating and intimate.
For all its merits, Eclipses is not an easy film to watch. It stretches the patience of its audience, and is more likely to speak to audiences who are not there to be entertained, nor to be told how to think or what to see. Like an eclipse that enters with darkness and leaves with light, Eclipses puts a banket over our eyes only to give its audiences and cinema an opportunity to be reborn again.