National Spotlight: Malaysia
Few directors make their first film when they are 24 years old. But Deepak Kumaran Menon’s The Gravel Road stands out not because of the filmmaker’s age, but because of the maturity and wisdom evident in his debut feature. With measured and gentle direction that is reminiscent of Hou Hsiao-hsien in the 80’s, it is an amazing achievement considering its shoestring budget and DV origin.
Even more remarkable is the subject matter – the first film in decades that deals exclusively with the Tamil minority living in Malaysia. Far from being political, the film instead is a rich household drama that was inspired by his own mother’s experiences back in the 60’s. Indeed, wswg.org critic David Walsh calls it “one of the loveliest and most moving films I’ve seen in years.”
Brought up in a family with more progressive ideals than the usual plantation resident, Shanta is a girl with big dreams. Though not from a wealthy background, she in encouraged to take up employment by helping a local Chinese tailor. But in a society where women quietly take their place behind the man, she would learn that there is a heavy price to pay for pursuing one’s own path in life.
With beautifully understated performances and gorgeous cinematography, The Gravel Road is an exemplary work that showcases the upcoming talents of Malaysia’s minorities in terms of artistic self-expression.