Everyone has a first love, and though it is hard to define that feeling when you're younger, it is there, aching inside you. That is what Malaysian filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad aims to prove in her fourth feature, a movie where that most complex of emotions is recounted in a deceptively simple, straightforward fashion.
Such an approach is especially convenient in this case, as the love story at the film's core involves two twelve-year olds, and would therefore make any attempts at "deeper" analysis seem contrived and pretentious. That they don't is also testament to the astounding performances given by the leading non-actors, Sharifah Aryana and Mohd Syafie Naswip. The former plays Orked (already seen as an adult character in Ahmad's previous picture, Gubra), a lively, almost rebellious girl who, perhaps influenced by her "British" upbringing (her mother studied in England), despises playing with dolls, preferring to play violent sports with the boys. Then one day she meets Mukhsin (Naswip), who has come to spend the holidays at his aunt's house, and all of a sudden she changes her habits: goodbye fistfights, hello bike-riding and tree-climbing. But what does this mean? Are they just friends, or is something more implied, something neither of them is yet ready to understand, let alone accept?
Given the young age of the protagonists, answering those questions borders on impossible, and so, like in several "smaller" films (Lost in Translation comes to mind), there is no real closure, a choice that leaves a bittersweet, but ultimately satisfying aftertaste: the naturalistic, unfiltered acting (especially Aryana's) gets to the heart almost immediately, and a strong supporting cast (Orked's family most of all) helps keeping the minimalistic narrative fun and seducing. The down-to-earth approach isn't always that effective (the hilarious subplot regarding an adulterous neighbor is dropped way too early), and it is hard to justify the bizarre Pulp Fiction reference at the start of the feature, but the emotional strength of the teenage romance is enough to make this an interesting piece of independent Asian cinema.
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