'Sandcastle' (沙城) is one of those films that makes you think 'What is life?!' in some kind of magical, subtle way.
'Sandcastle' is the debut 2010 feature film by Singaporean filmmaker Boo Junfeng. Junfeng has received various awards for his short films and 'Sandcastle' was selected for both the Cannes Film Festival and the Toronto international Film Festival as well as a variety of other festivals worldwide. It tells the story of the everyday life of a teenage boy whose ageing family are hiding their past.
I think it is the first Singaporean film I have seen (that I can remember anyway) and I must admit that I don't know much about the culture or political history of Singapore, both of which seem to feature prominently in this film. Despite that, I wasn't left feeling confused or unengaged as the realistic style and tone of the film drew me in- it felt like I was being let in to spy on the every day lives of this Singaporean family and their secretive past. The characters felt so real, they were flawed without being nasty and during the film you saw their motives through their actions rather than in their speech. The acting was incredible. It didn't feel like you were watching actors at all and the protagonist En (played by Joshua Tan) had a particularly strong on screen presence.
I can tell that this film will not be for everyone as it is very slow and features some all too realistic embarrassing and uncomfortable moments between family members. However it is a film which aims to be slow, in order to create a sense of realism and to invite the audience to contemplate rather than just be fed the story.
I found it to be one of those films that leaves you thinking about it for days afterwards. It's depiction of relationships between grandparents and grandchild as well as mother and child was both depressingly realistic and tender. For a film which features so many cultural elements (the Singaporean choir songs En sings, the traditional Singaporean funeral he attends and the whole dark political history of his family) to be able to communicate so deeply about universal human troubles, relationships and emotions is a real achievement.