Five Flavours 2013 Review: HANYUT/ALMAYER'S FOLLY, A Great Adventure Well Worth A Closer Look
HANYUT (Malay) - Drifting off into peril, without any real way of getting back.
The foregoing definition, which appears only after the final scene of the picture, perfectly evokes the tone of Hanyut/Almayer's Folly and emphasizes the omnipresent feeling of an inevitable doom that's hanging above all of the characters' heads throughout the whole time. Predetermined fate leads their lives onto a path of mischief, conflict, madness, betrayal and hatred. As in a Shakespearean tragedy, although not as brutal and with much lower body count, all the actors maneuver uncomfortably through rough terrains without being aware that most of their actions may have terrible consequences.
Based on Joseph Conrad's rather unsuccessful novel, U-Wei Haji Saari's Hanyut/Almayer's Folly is the most expensive production in the history of Malaysian cinema. Set in the 1830's Malaysia, this epic adventure piece tells the story of Kasper Almayer (Australia's Peter O'Brien), a Dutch expatriate living in the Borneo jungle along with Mam (Sofia Jane), a hotheaded wife, who loathes her husband for sending their daughter away when she was only a small girl. Surrounded by people of different cultures and religions, who visit him with much praise and seek counsel in his luxurious palace (as he prefers to call his house), the handsome and well-built man appears as a king in the eyes of a stranger.
Yet, as the storyline progresses, it's becoming clear that all those persons, including local officials, Arabs, and later even English soldiers, are secretly trying to get rid of the unwanted Dutchman. Kasper's definitely not in the center of attention, although his hyperactive behavior certainly makes him the most exaggerated and unsympathetic character, he's more of a foolish foreigner who accidentally ended up in the middle of a struggling country's fight for freedom.
Almayer's only hope for a trip back to Europe is an old legend about infamous gold hidden somewhere in the tropical land. The protagonist's titular folly is not the house that he wants to build with his own bare hands, as one Englishman proclaims during an evening get-together, but his maniacal obsession with a treasure, reminiscent of such pictures as the animated The Road to El Dorado or Hollywood's classic Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
This progressing fixation reveals a weak side of this seemingly tough man, making him an easy target for all the crafty figures sneaking behind his back. Sitting alone in his precious cottage and looking at some obscure maps he's daydreaming about a fortune that seems as far away as the homeland he never truly discovered.
Almayer's deteriorating condition is somewhat improved by a surprising visit from his daughter Nina (Diana Danielle), who re-establishes his past beliefs anew. As poor of a father as Almayer was, he tries to find a common ground with a woman that is simply incapable of showing love to a parent that abandoned her many years ago. Nina's overwhelming beauty proves to be a great trap for men of different origins, but the one who catches her eye is a lofty prince Dain Maroola (Adi Putra).
As their romance develops the two sweethearts realize the only way for their love to survive is to outsmart all other denizens of this isolated land, including Almayer himself. When an opportunity arises they concoct a plan so ingenious that it simply can't fail. However, one jealous woman referred to as the 'cake lady', a minor yet an obviously important character sets the mood for a third act that's too melodramatic for its own good.
The unfortunate last 30 minutes or so worsen the overall appeal of the film. What's meant to be a dramatic turn of events turns into a ludicrous series of scenes, where dialogues drift from purely hilarious to drastically clichéd. Almayer's drinking bout leads him to a state, in which despair mixes with anger and all that's heard is a round of repetitive sentences that don't really bring anything new to the tale.
Still, Hanyut/Almayer's Folly takes the audience on an journey that's as inviting as it is picturesque. Though Conrad's novel is often dubbed too hard to read due to its awkward language, the film's perfectly adapted to the preferences of a modern viewer. Great visuals give a glimpse of the wildness that permeates this remote region of Malaysia, and a character-driven narrative allows for all the recurring individuals to reveal their true identities.
U-Wei Haji Saari's sumptuous feature is a film definitely worth a closer look, and a wonderful companion piece for fans of great adventures and South Asian cinema alike.
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