... Dalam Botol

I've finally got around to watch this movie, after it had premiered a long time ago, and had already garnered so much attention to it even before it came out. I've got mixed feelings when I first heard of ... Dalam Botol (originally called Anu Dalam Botol "Penis in a Bottle"). Probably because it is a local Malay movie. I support my country's film industry in a modest way; I liked the fact that some directors are getting out the boxes and trying their hands on themes other than love, religion and horror (especially horror, that damned pontianak genre!) But I admit that our local directors made more crappy movies than great movies.

I don't think I'm entirely wrong if I claim that story-telling and facts are just not our local directors' biggest strength. Heck I don't think local movies, on a very few exceptions, are strong in anything at all! Perhaps it is the censorship's fault, or perhaps they're just afraid of making anything that is challenging to the audiences' intelligence. Of all the local movies that came out recently, I've only had the heart to watch Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, Kongsi and Sekali Lagi. Merong was decent, the other two are ridiculously baaaddd.... Even if I think Malay films are getting better in terms of cinematography and everything, their story-telling and fact-handling are still on a very average level.

Now, back to ... dalam botol, I kinda have a love-hate reaction to it. It is not entirely wrong, but it is not entirely right either. The story is said to be based on a real story, but no one knows for certain since the facts kinda point out the vague truth shrouding the plot. This movie tells of a gay man named Rubidin, who upon the casual remark by his boyfriend Ghaus, undergone a gender reassignment surgery and became a transsexual named Ruby. His boyfriend apparently did not like the change at all, and Ghaus ended up leaving Ruby alone to deal with his problem. At some point of the movie, Ruby stopped dressing as a female, went back to his kampung and almost got married to village girl smitten with him. The girl, Dina, did not know of his surgery. Nor his mother or anyone else for that matter except for a close friend and Ghaus. He ran away from his wedding of course and audiences are informed through the real Rubidin's messages that he regretted his decision every day of his life.

I love this movie because it got a really good directing going on (something you rarely see on local movies). The movie is a quiet one as it needs no artificial background song to express emotions. The actors and actresses did a very good job as they act and speak more naturally than forcefully to convey their feelings. The camera angles are nicely done as well as they add up to the atmosphere. Seriously, if more local movies are filmed out tidily and thoughtfully like these, I might have paid more attention. I got no complain on the artistic level.

LGBT matter is still a huge taboo in Malaysia. So it is understandable if Ruby is not accepted well being a transsexual or a gay. I can understand that Ghaus stopped having an interest in Ruby as soon as Ruby had a woman body, and I can tolerate the scenes where Ruby's parents got all worked up upon seeing his new image. Of course they're going to input some religious conflict, this is acceptable in my opinion because we're seeing how a conservative community is dealing with this matter. Besides that, I don't think this movie is sneering at the LGBT community. It pictures just how LGBT individual is trying to fit in with a strict community and yes, the reaction from said community is not always pleasant. Khir Rahman had actually captured the right emotion. Ruby's sadness at not being accepted by his parents, his mother's shock at finding out about Ruby's surgery, Ruby's desperate attempt to be "normal" despite his feelings, his feeling of guilt for leading Dina even when he did not love her, and so on. So, I don't think that's the real complain here. So, what exactly is the problem with this movie?

For starters, even though Arja Lee is a good actor, I don't think he's suitable for Ruby's role. He's too bulky to be playing a transsexual woman. And he doesn't have the convincing effeminate look to play one. If they had stick with him as a gay it's ok. But since the story is about changing into a transsexual, they messed up big time with the portrayal of Ruby. Apart from that, one has to delve deeper into the whole gay and transsexual psychology. Because technically, a gay man is a man who has interest in same-sex relationship but is happy with his physical, while a transsexual is someone who cannot accept his/her physical body. So, it is weird that Ruby jumps from being manly to unmanly so easily; one moment he's a manly gay man, then the next an unmanly trans woman, then he's manly again. Another strange thing here is the supposed penis in a bottle, because doesn't a gender reassignment surgery involves the penis being formed into a vagina? So how come Ruby can still keep his penis in a bottle? Another thing is that Ruby was shown to have grown a mustache during one of his grievings. Don't trans women take female hormone to make themselves grow less facial hair? And seriously, that made Arja Lee looked more like a drag queen than a trans woman. And why does he wears a wig as Ruby? He didn't grow out his hair as a trans woman would?

Apart from that, even though they had made this movie somewhat sympathetic towards Ruby, I still felt they kind of "criminalize" Ruby for what he had done. I was hopeful that Ruby ended up happy and complete at the end of the movie with or without partner. But I was treated to a message that Ruby regretted his action to this very day and was still blaming himself for everything that had happened. I know Ruby made huge mistakes; like changing his sex without careful consideration, not telling his mother and Dina about his new gender, and also for leaving behind his mother and Dina alone to bear the shame of a cancelled mid-way wedding. But I really hope that this movie give justice to her actions, make the audience understand that Ruby did those things because he was confused and was trying to be accepted, that it was really the community's fault for imposing a heavy taboo that trapped Ruby in guilt and shame. Instead the movie give an impression of "serves him right!" at the end of it. I was furious of course. After a very careful maneuver along the story, they fell right on their faces at the end of it.

I love ...dalam botol very much, but I also dislike the way they handled the ending or the casting, mind you. But this movie shouldn't be condemned altogether. It is a decent enough attempt and should be watched with compassion rather than judgmental.