A hurt that cuts deep

> Sofia Jane’s role as a mother torn from her child in U-Wei Saari’s new film Hanyut hits some­thing very close to her heart

The Sun (Malaysia) - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY BISSME S.

WATCHING the rough cut of U-Wei Saari’s much-awaited film Hanyut, screened for a se­lected au­di­ence, is an eye­open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The open­ing scene is dra­matic, where ac­tress Sofia Jane, look­ing dis­traught and cry­ing her eyes out, runs to­wards the river to pre­vent a boat from leav­ing. She even jumps into the wa­ter to do that.

Then, out of nowhere, an­other boat ap­pears with a white man on­board. He grabs Sofia by the hair and drags her back to shore. Mean­while, Sofia is scream­ing her heart out …

As the film pro­gresses, we learn that Sofia is play­ing Mem Pu­tih, a Malay woman of Betawi ori­gins who is mar­ried to Dutch trader Kasper Al­mayer, played by Aus­tralian ac­tor Peter O’Brien.

Al­mayer has just heart­lessly sep­a­rated Mem from their 10year-old daugh­ter Nina, who is be­ing sent to Sin­ga­pore to at­tend school there and learn to be a Westerner.

The open­ing scene fi­nally makes sense: the boat Mem is chas­ing is tak­ing her daugh­ter away and the man who is stop­ping her is her hus­band.

Mem be­gins to hate her hus­band for sep­a­rat­ing her from their daugh­ter. She be­comes a bit­ter woman and wants to in­flict her pain on her hus­band.

Re­venge has blinded her to the point that she is even will­ing to use their daugh­ter to hurt the man she hates.

Hanyut, based on Joseph Con­rad’s first novel Al­mayer’s Folly, will open in cin­e­mas here on Nov 24.

When U-Wei first came out with the idea of turn­ing this par­tic­u­lar novel into a film 15 years ago, he had award-win­ning In­done­sian ac­tress Chris­tine Hakim for the role of Mem in mind.

But as time passed and taste changed, U-Wei de­cided to give Sofia the role in­stead.

Watching the film, one can say that U-Wei has made the right choice be­cause Sofia has nailed the role of a frus­trated mother and bit­ter woman bril­liantly.

The ac­tress had read the novel years ago. When she was of­fered the role in Hanyut, she picked up the novel again and ex­plored the role of Mem Pu­tih in more de­tail.

“Con­rad’s de­pic­tion of Mem Pu­tih had in­trigued me,” says the 44-year-old Sofia. “I be­lieve her per­va­sive ra­tio­nal­ity is in­stru­men­tal to the story.

“Set in the 1800s, we see a cul­tured and lib­eral Malay woman. This opened up a whole new set of pos­si­bil­i­ties for me as an ac­tor and a woman.

“In all hon­esty, such char­ac­ters are of­ten found in books but rarely doc­u­mented in films.”

Sofia en­joyed shoot­ing the scene where her char­ac­ter Mem is fi­nally re­united with her daugh­ter Nina af­ter 10 years. The grown-up Nina is played by Diana Danielle.

The scene where the mother and daugh­ter try to find com­mon ground to re­con­nect af­ter years of be­ing apart is both touch­ing and emo­tional.

Mem’s pain and bit­ter­ness of hav­ing her child taken away from her has led the ac­tress to go back to a pe­riod in her life she had not wanted to re­visit.

Years ago, Sofia had lost her son. “All those emo­tions came rush­ing back once the re­hearsal started,” she re­calls. “I em­braced Mem from day one. There is noth­ing fic­tional about those feel­ings.”

In fact, Sofia can also re­late to the emo­tional feel­ings that her screen daugh­ter Nina goes through in Hanyut.

Nina is con­stantly search­ing for her iden­tity, whether she is a westerner or a Malay. And like Nina, Sofia comes from a Bri­tish-and-Malay parent­age.

Hanyut fea­tures an in­ter­na­tional cast and crew and Sofia cher­ishes the ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with them.

“To have an in­ter­na­tional cast and pro­duc­tion crew de­con­struct­ing and con­tribut­ing to­wards a slice of our his­tory, our cul­ture and our lan­guage has been amaz­ing,” she says.

Hanyut also sees her re­unit­ing with the di­rec­tor. The first time they worked to­gether was in UWei’s con­tro­ver­sial de­but film, Perem­puan, Is­teri Dan

“Work­ing with peo­ple I like and be­ing com­fort­able is im­por­tant,” she says. “U-Wei has much faith in his team and vice versa, and this is im­por­tant on a film set.

“He has been a won­der­ful and trusted friend which is why I will never say no to work­ing with him.”

When asked what is the the big­gest chal­lenge be­ing a Malaysian ac­tor, she says: “It’s to re­main chal­lenged and cu­ri­ous. You can only do that if you get the chance to work with peo­ple who keep you on your toes.

“Great ma­te­ri­als are not easy to come by. In six years’ time, I will be 50. I am telling my­self not to com­pete against the gi­ants be­cause per­form­ing has never been about that.”

(clock­wise, from top right) Sofia … putting her heart and soul into her role of Mem in Hanyut; with di­rec­tor U-Wei and Danielle (far left); and co-star O’Brien.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.