The Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) is back for it’s highly-anticipated 29th edition, and 2018’s impressive lineup continues the programme’s curatorial hot streak. Running from 28 November to 9 December, across a wide range of venues ranging from theatres at the Capitol and The Cathay, to museums such as National Gallery Singapore and National Museum of Singapore – this year’s screenings feature over 100 films from 44 countries throughout the 12-day showcase. And trust us, every single one of them is worth your time.
But since most of us probably can’t invest the time and money to watch all of the silver screen riches that SGIFF has to offer, Popwire has decided to narrow the list the down to 10 outstanding premiering films that you definitely can’t afford to skip. Much like the festival’s decision to champion a diverse field of local, regional and international films – our recommendations will spotlight the best that Singaporean, Southeast Asian and international independent cinema has to offer. Here are our handpicked highlights for the 29th SGIFF.
Sorry to Bother You
Down-on-his-luck Cassius ‘Cash’ Green lands a job at a sleazy telemarketing company. When a colleague teaches him the trick of putting on a ‘white’ voice while phoning clients, Cash is suddenly flush with success, and propelled into the firm’s upper echelon of ‘power callers’. As Cash crosses picket lines into this macabre new universe, he finds himself increasingly at odds with his artist-activist girlfriend and his union-leader buddy.
The directorial debut of Boots Riley, this absurdist dark comedy has been hailed as fearlessly ambitious and thoroughly original satire of capitalism and race relations.
3 Dec, Mon / 9:30 pm / National Museum of Singapore
5 Dec, Wed / 9:30 pm / National Museum of Singapore
The Last Artisan
Dismembered limbs. Topless mermaids. Crabs with human heads. These Chinese folklore-themed statues, in all their surreal, grotesque glory, are seared into the minds of visitors to Singapore’s Haw Par Villa. But no one knows them as well as Teo Veoh Seng. Decades ago, he started out as an apprentice at the park, which opened in the 1930s; now, at 83, Teo has finally decided to retire. Though his successors prepare for his departure, what will be lost when the master craftsman steps down?
This documentary about the head artisan of the Haw Par Villa theme park looks to be an insightful look into the life and legacy of an unsung Singaporean craftsman.
5 Dec, Wed / 7:00 pm / The Cathay
Musical ingénue Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) rises from the ashes of a seismic tragedy to capture the attention of a nation. Under the wing of a music producer (a gruff, seedy Jude Law), she and her sister Eleanor are swept into the dizzying world of pop superstardom. Eighteen years later, Celeste (now played by Natalie Portman in a frenzied performance) remains at the top of the ladder. Yet the forces of the world still press down upon the kamikaze diva.
Looking like the edgier electro-pop antithesis to A Star Is Born, Natalie Portman’s latest role is a searing examination of the darkest aspects modern society’s pop culture.
1 Dec, Sat / 11:00 am / Filmgarde Bugis+
5 Dec, Wed / 7:00 pm / National Museum of Singapore
The Wolf House
A young lady named Maria loses three pigs owned by a German settlement cloistered in the mountains of Southern Chile. Sentenced to a hundred days of solitary confinement, she chooses to escape into the woods, where she finds refuge in a deserted house. But Maria doesn’t get a happy ending just yet—she is haunted by a malevolence that morphs her very reality.
Inspired by the Colonia Dignidad, a German commune that served as a secret torture camp under Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, this animated folk tale is not for kids.
2 Dec, Sun / 9:30 pm / Filmgarde Bugis+
In the Philippines of 1995, guidance counsellor Pat is a listening ear for all the students of St Lucia’s Convent. Compassionate and empathetic, Pat grieves with her girls after one of them commits suicide in a bathroom stall—the same one in which another student, Eri, died years before. What the St Lucia’s girls don’t know, however, is that Pat possesses a secret clairvoyant ability, one that allows her to become a sympathetic ear to the ghost of Eri, who has never left St Lucia’s halls.
As part of SGIFF’s celebration of Filipino cinema, this convent school horror flick by 27 year-old Mikhail Red is a haunting balance of fright and sympathy for misjudged youth.
3 Dec, Mon / 8:00 pm / Capitol Theatre
Danish emergency dispatcher Asger Holm receives a distress call from a woman being kidnapped. The call disconnects, but the former police officer has enough to go on. Armed with only his phone and his intuition, he begins an investigation that takes him outside the law and brings him face-to-face with the skeletons in his closet.
Set within a call centre, director Gustav Möller has created a taut thriller disguised as a confined chamber piece, relying on entirely on Jakob Cedergren’s performance.
8 Dec, Sat / 7:00 pm / Filmgarde Bugis+
A Land Imagined
Amidst a Lynchian vision of Singapore’s metropolis, worn-out police investigator Lok sets out to solve the mystery behind the disappearance of a migrant Chinese construction worker from a land reclamation site. As Lok’s insomnia sets in, the truth he seeks begins to seep out from the reclaimed sand. The story then turns on itself to follow Wang, a lonely Chinese construction worker living in fear of being repatriated after a work site accident renders him expendable.
Singaporean writer-director Yeo Siew Hua’s contemporary noir just won the the top prize at this year’s Locarno International Film Festival, making this a local must-watch.
8 Dec, Sat / 2:00 pm / National Museum of Singapore
In the dizzyingly chic hallways of Mexico City’s Hotel Presidente Internacional, young chambermaid Eve toils through monotonously long workdays. Faced with endless empty rooms, she takes comfort in rare meaningful connections; a left-behind red dress, a guest that needs help, a burgeoning sexual encounter, a possible promotion. In these glimmers of kindness and hope, Eve holds on to her dreams of a better life, for herself and her son.
The big screen debut of Mexican director-actress Lila Avilés, this naturalistic film is a vérité tale that explores the struggles of overlooked workers and the disenfranchised.
5 Dec, Wed / 9:30 pm / Filmgarde Bugis+
Ash Is The Purest White
Told in three distinct chapters that span almost two decades, the film chronicles the relationship between Qiao and small-time gangster Bin, whose life she saves—an act which lands her in prison for five years. Upon release, Qiao tries to begin where she left off, only to realise that the world around her has irrevocably changed.
Billed as an epic tale of love, crime and ennui – Jia Zhangke’s latest is a Chinese mobster drama about turf and industry set against the backdrop of a dying coal-mining town.
29 Nov, Thu / 9:30 pm / National Museum of Singapore
A powerful and timely debut from Lukas Dhont, this Caméra d’Or- and Queer Palm-winner charts the frustrations of 15-year-old transgender girl Lara, who harbours a single-minded ambition to become a prima ballerina. As she grapples with the pain of transitioning, and adolescent turmoil, the hard discipline of ballet pushes the pliability of her body to precarious limits.
Where most queer films are about external conflicts and prejudice, this film is refreshing because it seems to be about Lara’s internal identity and sense of self.
1 Dec, Sat / 9:30 pm / Filmgarde Bugis+