Dir: Eric Khoo. Sing. 2005.90mins.
Since it opened Directors Fortnight at Cannes,
But while it is likely toprove popular with sympathetic arthouse audiences,broader appeal on the same circuits might be harder for this strange and over-ambitiouseffort, which tries to look like one of Kieslowski's minimalist tales but neverquite makes the grade.
Inspired by the writings ofdeaf and blind Singapore author Theresa Chan, including large chunks of her ownreminiscences during the second half, its insistently stylish manners should beappreciated by the cognoscenti. But there is not enough on show to dissimulatethe thin dramatic fabric of the stories themselves.
Just like Khoo's previous feature, 12 Storeys, the script consists of three separate stories, whichhere deal with the need and yearning for love.
The first follows an agedshopkeeper (Chew Sung Chin) mourning the death of his wife. Another looks at afat security guard (Seet KengYew) who can not take his eyes off an elegant businesswoman (Lynn Poh) working in the same building. In the third episode aphone-text affair between two teen girls (Samantha Tan and EzannLee) turns sour when one of them courts disaster with a third person.
The film starts well. Usingstatic set-ups throughout, the camera never moves, laboriously framing everyshot to perfection. Through this Khoo establishes afluid, unencumbered pace, which works well for a while, despite his constantjumps from one story to another and lack of introduction for each of the newcharacters.
The absence of dialogue -there cannot be more than five minutes of it throughout, and even then it ismonosyllabic - seems like a quirky introduction that will soon right itself.
There are also occasionalsurreal touches that are cleverly blended in, like the heart-breaking image ofthe old man sitting dejectedly alone in his shop with the spirit of his deadwife sitting next to him, a presence he can not rid himself of.
But then, from out ofnowhere, Khoo abandons the fictional tales for anadmittedly more affecting account of Theresa Chan, who lost her hearing at 12,her sight at 14 and yet who has come to live a fulfilling life.
This documentary approach,which is rendered in subtitles over footage, follows its subject through her dailyroutines, detailing her incredible stamina and how others have helped guide herat critical moments.
The overall impact howeveris to send the feature, which up until that point seemed to be heading in a distinctdirection, spinning in search of itself. BeWith Me then becomes less a feature abouthankering for true love, more about the courage to face life despite all itsmiseries.
The documentary strand,which feels alien to the rest, is finally tied up with one of the threefictional stories; it is also the only one of the several attempts to connectbetween the two disparate threads that really works.
Intentionally schematic inevery aspect, the characters - save Chan - have no names and images are pareddown only to essentials. The use of sound is sensitive but unobtrusive and, asis fit for a film about a deaf woman, silence is often used as an element initself.
The performances are mainlyacts of presence by a well-chosen cast, but the characters they have beenhanded amount to little, suggesting there might be much more to them, if onlyhad they been developed properly. It is a typical and increasing flaw inportmanteau-style films of this nature; maybe a moratorium should be declaredon the genre for the time being.
Zhao Wei Productions
Bavaria Film International
Wong Kim Hoh
from the life and autobiography of Theresa Chan
Low Hwee Ling
Seet Keng Yew
Chew Sung Ching