(director/writer: Sandi Tan; cinematographer: Iris Ng; editors: Lucas Celler, Sandi Tan, Kimberley Hassett; music: Ishai Adar; cast: Sandi Tan, Jasmine Ng, Sophia Siddique Harvey, Georges Cardona; Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Sandi Tan, Jessica Levin, Maya Rudolph; Netflix; 2018)

The unique, personal film is a truly remarkable one.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The experimental indie film played at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. First-time director Sandi Tan is the Singapore novelist-turned-documentarian, whose magical film mixes fiction and non-fiction into an amazing documentary. The title is derived from a cult road movie that she and her cinefile friends Jasmine Ng (Tan & Ng were called the Coen sisters) and Sophia Siddique Harvey made in 1992, when they were teen-agers, but the film became mysteriously lost through the years.

This was one of Singapore’s only independent films made in the early 90s in the conservative country and could have given great recognition to Tan as an upcoming filmmaker and changed the culture locally. Tan tells the mystery story of that lost film and does her best to recreate parts of the missing film in the documentary.Tan goes into details how this manipulative fortysomething married American and father of one, Georges Cardona (seen in archive footage and heard through voice recordings), enters the girl creators lives when they attend the local filmmaker’s workshop he runs and they get heavily involved with him even though Tan’s friends never trusted him. Somehow they let him direct their film, while Tan penned the screenplay and played the lead, Ng was editor, and Siddique was producer. The rest of the cast are non-professionals, friends and neighbors. Georges mentored and encouraged the 19-year-old Tan to follow her movie dream. After shooting the film on the cheap in Singapore, in the summer of 1992, a film in the style of “Breathless,” George vanishes with the 16mm film canisters and was never seen again (he’s now deceased). Tan moves to Los Angeles, starts writing fiction, gets married, and settles into a life without films. There’s no word of the film until 20 years later, when a blemished video of the film shows up with a snowy picture and only static. The new “Shirkers” is a raw, imaginative and idiosyncratic film, showing off Tan’s great talent and beautiful personality to perservere in the face of defeat. It might have thrown her off track but the bad experience did not stop her from growing as an artist, as we see how she puts together such a colorful and pulsating documentary (mixing interviews of the original cast with the making of Shirkers again). Today Tan’s co-creator of the 1992 film, Sophia Siddique Harvey, is a professor of film at Vassar.

The unique, personal film is a truly remarkable one. Tan, the youthful misfit and hipster, shows her good humor about the lost opportunity and her ability to overcome it. This splendid film might give the talented and energetic artist a chance to get back into filmmaking, as it also celebrates the saying that “youth shall be served.”

REVIEWED ON 11/22/2018 GRADE: A-