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Malay/sian Films: Cinema of Denial The title of this chapter refers to the frequent conflation of Malay cinema with national or Malaysian cinema. My goal is to discuss how Malay cinema's history, together with a post-1969 national ideology, helps to construct, shape, and dictate the desires of its audience even today. An outline of the problems Malay cinema confronted in the 19908 will also give the reader an idea of the kinds of stories Malay films tell and what issues preoccupy contemporary filmmakers. Denial in Malay cinema is facilitated by self-censorship and state censorship whereby suppressive state measures such as the Internal Security Act serve to maintain a general atmosphere of repression in which filmmakers avoid portraying current social realities that might be deemed sensitive to national unity or critical of the government.1 However, some filmmakers have deployed irony and parody to question and destabilize the state ideology that the national cinema purports to convey. Even some films that seem to convey a "straightforward" message can be read subversively to yield a social critique of race, class, and gender in the 19808 and 19905. In more than one instance, the readings here are indebted to the work of fellow Malaysian, Hatta Azad Khan, especially his book The Malay Cinema.2 1 take up the issues in his book about where Malay cinema fits into theories of national cinema or Third Cinema. Hisnotion of a"middle cinema" - one that combines artistic and commercial motivations infilmmaking- aptly describes what the new wave of 19908 Malay filmmakers were doing. My focus is on films from the 19805 and 19905, but I draw extensivelyon historical material from Hatta's 83 4 The Malay Cinema and Hamzah Hussin's memoir. BecauseHatta's book does not encompass the cinema of the 19905, the discussion here commences where his leaves off and concludes with a short analysis of Shuhaimi Baba's film Layar Lara, which addresses key points in this chapter. Linked with issues of censorship, the project of reclaiming adat is underway in contemporary filmmaking, as it is in literary production. Recuperating adat in film takes the form of representations of Malay folk customs, some of which are deemed unlslamic, and the portrayal of female sexuality embedded in the image of the woman wearing a sarong tied around her midriff (berkemban). Such an image evokes an earthiness and raw sensuality that is rooted in the imagery of the kampung, or village, and suggests a kind of Malay essentialist femininity that preceded the advent of urban modernity, before the period of dakwah (i.e., proselytizing) activism.3 This representation of native female sexuality results from recuperating an essential or essentialized Malayness that is cathected onto the body of the gendered Other. Often, this image of an original Malayness embodied by the woman is produced by male filmmakers. Thus, in the process of reclaiming ethnic roots while resisting a homogeneous global modernity and fundamentalist Islam, an elision or sleight-of-hand of another kind occurs, for privileging ethnicity in this case means sacrificing gender politics. That is the problem with male filmmakers who reclaim adat through the image of the woman in a sarong in contemporary Malay cinema.4 In Chapter 6,1 argue that male fears of the emancipated modern woman, who is beyond the control of male desires, underlie the representations of the sexualized woman in films such as Amok (directed by Adman Salleh) and Perempuan, Isteri Dan ...?(Woman, Wife and Whore, directed by U-Wei Haji Saari). Using Renata Salecl's understanding of how a Lacanian psychoanalytical theory of subjectivity works on culture and ideology, it is possible to theorize Malaysian society based on the discourse of its cultural productions: "In Lacanian psychoanalysis, fantasy is linked to the way people organize enjoyment (jouissance), the way they structure their desire around some traumatic element that cannot be symbolized. Fantasy gives consistency to what we call 'reality.' Social reality is always traversed by some fundamental impossibility. It is fantasy that attempts to symbolize or otherwise fill out this empty place of social reality. Fantasy thus functions as a scenario that conceals the ultimate inconsistency of society" (Salecl 1994,15). The recuperation of adat, it would appear, provides this fantasy that is structured around censorship (manifested not only in what I call the Cinema of Denial but in the general post-NEP Malaysian society), around the repressed that cannot be symbolized. It might seem a far stretch to link the 84 Malay/sian...


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