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Reel Asian Film Festival Review: The Mirror Never Lies

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[youtube id=”zRI88WLfBds” width=”620″ height=”360″]Though Reel Asian Film Festival is coming to an end, there is still plenty to talk about and quite a few films to review. One of them is Kamila Andini’s debut feature The Mirror Never Lies, which happens to be set in one of the most beautiful locations in the world — the Wakatobi Archipelago of Indonesia. In this tropical paradise, the Bajo people reside in houses built on coral reefs and live completely off the ocean. The Mirror Never Lies is full of beautiful shots that showcase the setting in the most pleasant way possible, but unfortunately the film’s narrative fails to gain momentum, which makes the whole experience rather tedious.

The story of The Mirror Never Lies follows a rebellious 12-year old girl named Pakis (Gita Novalista) whose life was shaken up when her father went missing at sea. As a result, Pakis becomes obsessed with a mirror that can supposedly bring her father back to her, so she carries it with her at all times. Pakis’ mother Tayung (Atiqah Hasiholan) is also deeply affected by the disappearance of her husband, but instead of sharing her grief with Pakis, she pushes her daughter away. The Mirror Never Lies is essentially about Pakis’ search for a way to move on and accept the fact that her father may never return.

Unfortunately, the film’s narrative progression seems to be hampered by Andini’s peculiar direction style. For all the natural beauty of the setting and breathtaking cinematography, the film often feels very cold and detached — almost like a Stanley Kubrick movie. Just like Kubrick, Andini seems to be interested in telling the story by relying on images rather than the actors and the script, which is why there are so many of shots focusing on the environment. Andini is simply not interested in getting inside the characters’ heads because to her it is far more fascinating to explore their surroundings. As a result, The Mirror Never Lies lacks genuine human drama.

Now the lack of  human drama is not always a bad thing, but it must be said that only a handful of filmmakers can pull off such a stunt in a work of fiction successfully. Kubrick was one of those few, but Andini is not quite on the same level yet because aside from the film’s impressive visuals, there is really not much else to it.

Kubrick’s trick was not just to make his shots look impressive, but also load them with enough symbols and subtext to make the viewers think. Sadly, The Mirror Never Lies does not make you think about anything — since most of the film’s images are too literal in what they depict, while its message of “moving on” is too on the nose. If there was a little more focus on the characters, the film would have probably been better for it.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to say that there are no great scenes or characters in The Mirror Never Lies because there certainly are. For instance, everything involving Pakis’ adorable friend Lumo (Eko), who attempts to “court” Pakis by singing her songs and bringing her flowers, is always funny and touching — he is probably the most lovable character in the film. Pakis is also somewhat lovable with her unorthodox behaviour and occasional mood swings, but she can sometimes feel a little too one-dimensional — since her obsession with the mirror is sometimes overemphasized.

The Mirror Never Lies is difficult to recommend to everyone, but at the same time, it feels wrong to dismiss it either — the photography and the visual style are simply too gorgeous not to be witnessed. As such, if you ever come by a copy of this film, give it a chance, but be prepared for quite a bit of tedium as well.

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Rating: B-

By: Taras Trofimov