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Movie Review

Movie Review: 'Shirkers'

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In 1992, a group of young filmmakers in Singapore, most in their teens, shot a feature-length movie that some critics argue would have completely changed the face of the mostly non-existent film industry in Singapore. But, we’ll never know, because shortly after wrapping, all of the raw footage “disappeared," in a manner of speaking.

A few years ago, that footage resurfaced, which prompted Sandi Tan, the brainchild behind the original movie, to make her new documentary, called Shirkers.

The documentary wrestles with Tan’s complicated feelings about who she was when she and her friends made their movie 26 years ago, about the circumstances surrounding its disappearance, and about the very large hole it left in all of their lives. They were young, yes, but they poured their creative hearts into the movie, and the vacuum it created has haunted each of them in very real ways. Some of what we learn is deeply uncomfortable, and it’s clear that Tan’s friends have not entirely made peace with her or with much of what happened.

And still, all the while, Tan drops in tiny love letters to the movies. She reminds us of why we, too, will always love them — both the movies we treasure that made it out alive, and those that are lost forever and live only in our imaginations.

This will seem like an abrupt shift, but I must be intentionally vague. We’re just beginning to have a reckoning in our society with the actions of men who feel entitled to manipulate and wield power over the lives of others, and especially the lives of women, and the deep, destructive, and persistent consequences of those actions. We’re seeing, finally, how women are robbed of major parts of their lives — creatively, emotionally and financially — and how a person has to deal with rebuilding a life that someone else essentially tried to erase.

Shirkers forces us to confront a world that will never give us all the answers, and what happens when something is taken from us and will never, ever come back. It is somehow both absolutely of the moment, and also, in its own way, timeless.