Julius Caesar in Kelantanese?

Saturday August 23, 2003

Julius Caesar in Kelantanese?


PUNKS spouting Shakespeare, in any language, would make for an interesting cinematic experience. In the Kelantanese dialect, it is simply mind-blowing, especially when it borrows the premise of Julius Caesar, one of Shakespeare’s most complex works. 

For that alone Gedebe is a noteworthy effort. And it really could have gone on to become the gust of fresh air that the local film scene needed. Unfortunately, this indie flick directed by Nam Ron runs out of breath before it is barely into the second scene! 

Adapting a play into a film is always tricky. Adapting a hit play is even trickier. Gedebe was first staged in 2001 by Nam Ron, and it managed to rivet theatregoers with its inventiveness and sense of adventure. The film, by contrast, only leaves you cold. 

The opening of a local independent film is always a big moment for me, but I have yet to see one good enough to turn the tide for the local film scene or even offer a glimmer of hope that a real talent has arrived. Gedebe is not that film and Nam Ron is definitely not the Chosen One, not yet anyway. What an utter disappointment! 

Nam Ron is a promising theatre director with an edgy body of work under his belt. His cinematic vocabulary, however, is still lacking and this is why his groundbreaking and vibrant stage direction fails to work on film. Perhaps this is understandable considering Gedebe is Nam’s maiden effort in filmmaking, but the lack of imagination in this lazy adaptation is unforgivable. 

Brutus Baru is born to run on the streets of Bangsar Utama.

The story is set in a sombre and contemplative Bangsar Utama(!), and the warring factions are represented by the Punks and Skinheads. The tone of the movie is mournful, and this effectively creates a sense of foreboding. Unfortunately, the mood becomes lugubrious and unbearable before long.  

Like his theatre version, the film opens with Cassius (Along Md Ezendy) recalling the events leading up to the murder of Julius Caesar before his “coronation”. Cassius is ruthless and has a malicious attitude, but he honestly feared for the independence of the republic should Caesar be crowned. Thus was his murderous plan hatched. 

You see, Caesar near his zenith is a power-hungry man, and his intention to unite the warring Punks and Skinheads does not sit well with Cassius. Cassius does not attempt the assassination by himself of course; he tries to enlist Brutus (Zul Huzaimi Marzuki), Caesar’s devoted friend.  

Brutus is a good and honest man, but Cassius’ goading plunges him into a dilemma – should be remain loyal to his friend or should he consider the greater good?  

On stage this Hamlet-esque dilemma managed to create a tension that moves the story. The lame cinematic enactment barely manages to get the emotional turmoil across. 

It has been argued that the bard’s plays are about the richness of the language, first and foremost.Yet, the thing that would have kept Shakespeare’s spirit well and alive in this film isn’t necessarily in the most careful and proper reading of lines, but in daring visuals. 

The main problem with Gedebe is that it is too verbose. Long monologues may work on stage but translated to film, they only put viewers to sleep (like the one sitting next to me, who had a pleasant forty winks).  

Pointless repetition adds to the dullness. The sketchy acting is equally disappointing. Both leads fail to convince, and this makes it difficult for us to sympathise with them, let alone feel compelled to follow their trial to the end. 

Zul Huzaimi, normally a magnificent stage presence, is especially mediocre. In Gedebe, he is hardly recognisable, a mere shadow of his usual commanding stage persona. It would seem, the camera does not love him. 

Practically the only thing that works here are the punk beats. The energetic underground-influenced soundtrack injects some life into this otherwise lacklustre film – not that it will stop you from wishing that the moral police would come and put these dreary punks out of their misery (perhaps by turning them into yuppies).  

Still, the subliminal social commentary of the play remains intact. The political allusion of the original is here substituted with insinuations about questionable law enforcement, making it especially relevant to the times. If anything, this offers proof that the Shakespearean material is timeless and universal. The only problem is: since you have to put up with so much tedium to appreciate the point, why bother?  

But practice makes perfect, right? And, as scary as this may sound, Gedebe in its imperfection is still capable of giving most of our local films a run for their money. Majulah Filem untuk Negara. W  


Gedebe is in Malay with English subtitles 



Cast: Along Md Ezendy, Zul Huzaimi Marzuki, Hairul Anuar Harun, Soffi Jikan 

Director: Nam Ron