AP­PREN­TICE, drama, not rated, in Malay with subtitles, The Screen, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Ap­pren­tice Ap­pren­tice

Ai­man (Fir­daus Rah­man), a new guard in a max­i­mum se­cu­rity Malay prison, be­friends an older man named Rahim (Wan Hanafi Su), un­aware at first that Rahim is the prison’s chief ex­e­cu­tioner — with a rep­u­ta­tion built on the num­ber of peo­ple he’s sent to their deaths. When Rahim’s as­sis­tant quits, he grooms the dili­gent Ai­man for the po­si­tion. But Ai­man has a se­cret he keeps from his new em­ploy­ers and one that weighs on his con­science. His father, a for­mer pris­oner, was ex­e­cuted by Rahim years be­fore. That’s the premise of di­rec­tor Jun­feng Boo’s dark, un­set­tling ex­plo­ration of prison life from the per­spec­tive of the guards.

At the start of his em­ploy­ment, Ai­man says he wants to be of ser­vice to peo­ple. It isn’t the other guards but the pris­on­ers he re­lates to — com­ing from a sim­i­lar back­ground and class to theirs. He’s haunted by the mem­ory of his father, al­though he barely knew him, and he led a life of mis­chief and trou­ble be­fore mil­i­tary ser­vice and un­der­tak­ing his new po­si­tion. Rahim, mean­while, prides him­self on his hu­mane ap­proach to ex­e­cut­ing pris­on­ers. He makes ef­forts to pro­vide them with small com­forts and make their deaths as quick and pain­less as pos­si­ble.

Boo’s film is an af­fect­ing in­dict­ment of a strict crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem whose pur­pose is op­pres­sion, and it ex­plores the trau­ma­tiz­ing ef­fects this sys­tem has on Ai­man’s fam­ily. But doesn’t vil­lainize its pro­tag­o­nists. They are hu­man, even if charged with keep­ing oth­ers like an­i­mals, un­der lock and key, and their per­sonal strug­gles elicit sym­pa­thy de­spite the grim na­ture of their work. Ai­man, who came to the prison with the in­ten­tion of teach­ing trades to pris­on­ers in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, lives with his sis­ter Suhaila (Mas­tura Ah­mad) who’s op­posed to his new line of work and of­fended be­cause of what hap­pened to their father. But Ai­man is in­creas­ingly drawn to the prison’s no­to­ri­ous E wing, where the con­demned are given the hangman’s noose.

The film is staunchly against the death penalty. By fo­cus­ing on guards in­stead of pris­on­ers, it strikes an un­ex­pected emo­tional chord. Ai­man’s de­hu­man­iza­tion starts the mo­ment he en­ters the prison walls for the first time. But Boo avoids pros­e­ly­tiz­ing. Rahim de­scribes the de­tails of his work in a man­ner that in­trigues and chills in equal mea­sure. He pro­vides a trea­tise on the dy­nam­ics of noose ver­sus neck that’s com­pelling but also un­com­fort­able in its pedan­tic de­scrip­tions of death. Rahim has learned af­ter 30 years of ex­pe­ri­ence that the best way to kill a man by hang­ing is to en­sure a swift sep­a­ra­tion of the up­per spine, re­sult­ing in in­stant death. Rahim sees this as a small bless­ing for the vic­tim. But one leaves the the­ater aware of an­other kind of death — the death of the soul. is a gritty, re­al­is­tic look at the ease by which that can be­come com­pro­mised. — Michael Abatemarco

Fir­daus Rah­man in a scene from Ap­pren­tice

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