Rotterdam 2024 Review: LA LUNA, Naughty In The Nicest Way

M. Raihan Halim's new comedy keeps all of its risqué mischief squeaky clean.

Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
Rotterdam 2024 Review: LA LUNA, Naughty In The Nicest Way
This year, the International Film Festival Rotterdam started with the fairly inoffensive comedy-drama Head South (reviewed here), and it closed with an equally inoffensive film: M. Raihan Halim's Singaporean small-town comedy La Luna. In it, we see the daily life in Malaysian Kampong Bras Basah, a small village with its own set of religious rules as dictated by the stern town elder Tok Hassan. Jokes are not allowed in serious conversation, playing modern music too loud in your car gets you a fine, and a team of devout men diligently put black paint on all offensive images on the covers of books, newspapers and magazines.

Iffr2024-laluna-ext1.jpgThen, change arrives in the form of Hanie, a woman who has inherited a house at the edge of the village and decides to use the location to start "La Luna", a modern lingerie shop. This leads to culture clashes all over the place of course, with Hanie and Tok Hassan butting heads hard, especially when the latter orders the imam to denounce the store in his sermons as an evil influence.

Hanie gets help too though: already the women in the village have noticed that a shop in which men are not allowed can be used as a safe place, a hiding place even in case of abuse. But as Tok Hassan notices his iron hold over the kampong is lessening, he chooses ever more corrupt means to drive Hanie out of the village...

As sex comedies go, La Luna is very tame, but in Singapore and Malaysia not much is allowed in the way of depictions of nudity and sex, and indeed it is seen as bad form to criticize religion. Within those limits, La Luna can be seen as somewhat edgy and naughty, tentatively testing the borders a bit. Conversations between the town's head of police (who wants to keep the peace) and his rebellious teenage daughter (who wants modern reforms) show both sides of the discussion, and ooh la la, both have a romantic subplot developing.

Much of what happens is predictable, and the film is very sweet. But it is also charming in that old-fashioned romantic comedy slapstick sort of way, with spunky women challenging the square dull (and increasingly horny) men. Director M. Raihan Halim adds a few modern concerns, a message with regards to social support, and a few stern lessons about how power can corrupt the soul. Like I said, it's fairly inoffensive. The festival offered a few gut-punches this year and this wasn't one. But sometimes you need a bit of rest between all the heavy-hitters, and this was a gentle and fun break.

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