In life, a siren of sudden, jolting change sounds. To let us know that what once was a civilisational cradle and is now powdered by ruins and perpetual wartime was also a land of eternal summer. The siren makes us privy to the biography of two sisters who lived, laughed, swam, won hearts, had doting parents and a steady family of friends to hold them close in a modern world.
THE SWIMMERS is a siren that resounds in order to recreate, with utmost sincerity, the real-life tale of Syrian sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini who bring to us the natural, normal, peacetime rhythms of a prosperous and educated middle-class settled in Damascus. They are sirens who then uphold the courage to cross borders, an endless sea, seek refuge in the comfort of strangers turned allies and swim for the glory of survival. For the glory of every immigrant life that means so much more than a sinking graph defined by hardship. They are sirens for the loss of home, of family and friends, of a nation in ruins and the international network of people who take them all the way to the Olympics.
The sirens are of bombs and shrapnels that enter swimming pools in a war-torn state, of the transition of a suburb and a city to a graveyard. The sirens are for the blood bonds that pull and push these sisters in so many disparate directions yet their tryst with destiny is like holy water that runs in their veins. One that is of victory without scooping an Olympic medal but of representing their nation and a transformed state of mind to the world. Where the body vests strewn across a Greek island tell a million tales of those who disembarked, stepping feet into the new world.
Kudos to this team for making it about the sportsmanship, the empowerment of daughters and breaking barriers about the kind of liberal, happy life one led in a place that is now atomised by violence.
Kudos for having real-life sisters Nathalie and Manal Issa enact and embody the siren of courage and change that make the Mardinis’ human passage one of such great virtues.
THE GOOD NURSE (2022)
In this chilling new work, dim tubelights, a vein-like greenish/blue tinge is an appropriate tonal scheme to enlighten us about how human life affixed with physical ailments is such an open package, to be tampered with and tarnished, within a stone-cold medical complex.
The siren is low, with an ominous thrum and a throb of mortal danger is a living truth for patients as their pulses rise and fall, their heart rates plateau. The dilemmas are complex for the titular nurse as she stares down a bottomless barrel where complicity of the ubiquitous establishment under whose purview she has to survive and shield her own failing heart condition makes for an implosive arc.
She cares for these lives, cares for her children, fears for her physical state and stress levels gobbling her up and then cares for and eventually fears the one man who she has called her best friend in a long time.
In THE GOOD NURSE, Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne recreate the reception to horrors within hospital corridors where one eventually becomes a siren of realisation while the other sounds bugles for the underhand violence that comes visiting ailing bodies and grieving lives, respectively.
An outcry, an outburst, a methodical confrontation with truth, an unresolved diagnosis of a murderer and the psychological precincts where tenderness and simmering angst coexist make this a chilling study. All of it inspired by a real-life case that’s stranger and thousand times more penetrating than fiction.
Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS is a veritable siren, a call for attention for a new generation that may think that Elvis has left the building. No Sir, he is right in the vicinity, in our hearts and conjured to life here to pluck out any semblance of a forgotten legacy.
The chop and slice tempo, the frenetic rhythms and mass adulation, the unforgettably sensual and slick live performances, the hand of management that toys with genius to serve its own means, the toll of being a worldwide phenomenon, a mother’s bright light, a conflicted man of true principle who transferred his R&B influences to power a cultural revolution, leaping into the interdependence of music and relationships untouched by race- they are all here. A life’s history of music is resurrected to capture the sweat, efforts and transcendence of showmanship unlike any other.
There’s the electrical component enshrined in Beale Street- a mecca for such enduring pioneers as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, B.B. King and Little Richard, all of whom influenced Elvis and were allies, injecting him with the harsh truth about those very racial and cultural facts he railed against. But most of all, it’s the music that stood out.
He railed like a mighty siren with the political force of his music, incorporating a protest song into a Christmas special, refusing to toe the line of conservative brigands by keeping up with his iconic moves, ushering in for his audiences gender fluidity, a physical freedom of movement and self-expression and nirvana unencumbered by societal norms. He hence is the siren who went out with an ‘Unchained Melody’ even as the world of opportunity and an unrealised global tour had eaten him alive.
His music was his detour from the norms, from the thorny paths of suppression and censure. From the forked bylanes of cultural expectations. That force to bury his detractors with his own free-will in his repertoire grounds this screenplay with all the musical predominance that makes Elvis a lodestar.
With profound moments that we have already committed to our vaults of memory, Austin Butler becomes his voice, soul and body, literally uniting the three to capture a spirit that found its calling in artistic upliftment.
This siren is breathless like the life it corresponds with so electrically. But it is also a sound of sombre recompense for a man of all seasons. Long live the actual King. Long live Butler’s glowing and beautifully realised tribute to him.
Like 2008’s consistently compelling DOUBT, this screen treatment based on an award-winning play sounds a siren of confrontation for two people.
Joshua Lim and Adibah Noor let us view this reunion transform into something that evokes the classic and all-too human templates of pity and fear. They are evoked when the shroud of abuse that has gathered dust imprints its permanent pigments into shattered souls, when shame and guilt cannot be reconciled individually. Where the foundations of touch are so fundamentally complex that what separates or constitutes love from abuse is absolutely impossible to detect.
The dual interplay among these two individuals within the shadowy, trauma-lashed landscape of a home is heartbreaking, especially when the victim/survivor is shamed, his sexuality shifted according to the other’s own history of denial and the idea of forgetting becomes an escape. But forgetting and forgiving never become lived realities when the oppressors are so shadowy and elusive.
FUNDAMENTALLY HAPPY is a psychological exploration of trauma that is didactic when contrasting the local nature of law and order and religious diktats among a wider global purview but is realistically, universally cognisant of how abuse is rampant all around. Where boys fall as silent victims and carry the cross of guilt and shame, in a complex world which makes their ordeals a constant rigmarole.