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CANNES 2023 Critics’ Week

Amanda Nell Eu • Director of Tiger Stripes

“As women, we should be proud of our bodies”


- CANNES 2023: The debuting director proves that every girl should show off her tiger stripes and strive to find joy again

Amanda Nell Eu • Director of Tiger Stripes

In her half-scary, half-funny feature debut, Tiger Stripes [+see also:
film review
interview: Amanda Nell Eu
film profile
– shown in CannesCritics’ WeekAmanda Nell Eu portrays Zaffan (Zafreen Zairizal), who is having a hard time with puberty. Then again, she is going through some quite different changes to the other girls in her school, and soon, they will all hear her roar.

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Cineuropa: You talk about such a universal experience here. It’s sad how dramatic all of these physical changes can be for girls.
Amanda Nell Eu:
The first starting point came from my own experiences. I remember being really afraid of what was happening to my body. It felt like a horror movie: one day, I was this person, and then the next, there was something different about me. I was hoping it would go away.

It’s almost strange, having such strong emotions towards your own body. I wanted to talk about this insecurity that many girls experience, sometimes carrying it into their adult lives. Later, when I was talking to my cast, I realised they still fear these changes.

Exactly: they “fear” these changes, which is why horror can be such a great way of addressing them. Even if you are not turning into a monster, you are made to feel like one.
That’s exactly it! Here, I wanted to go further and see how she, and her community, would deal with that – with her actually becoming a monster. In our region, folk tales and superstitions are very much alive, so a lot of it came from the weretiger myth that we have, although that’s about tigers assimilating into human society. I am turning it around because she wants to break the barriers that society has built for her, be free and connect with nature again.

There are moments that are quite harsh, from a rather cold relationship with her mother to violent bullying at school. But the film is also bursting with joy, and a lot of it comes from Zafreen.
That was definitely the intention. In spite of everything she is going through, which is violent and dark, it’s also about trying to find joy again. There is that sense of empowerment at the end. She is not alone – she is proud, and she is a badass.

It couldn’t be too dark because, as women, we should be proud of our bodies, of ourselves. I was thinking about The Ugly Duckling. You have this family, but their child is a little bit different. Her mother is trying to make her fit into one box, which is not working out, because – obviously – she is a swan! And that is basically what Tiger Stripes is about. We did many workshops, and Zafreen would always show that playful, cheeky side. I knew she would have a blast; all I had to do was allow her to let loose.

You include quite a few videos in the film, shot on an iPhone. Why?
Social media is a huge part of our life. We can’t avoid it. Young girls grow up seeing themselves on a screen, in public. When I was their age, it was more private. I would just stare at the mirror. Now, we are posting everything we do; we want more likes and admiration. Even the man who is performing this exorcism on her later on – he is also looking for power.

His methods bring to mind witch trials and hysteria – how women are seen and how others always try to “cure” them of something.
I definitely did a lot of research into hysteria. We have many occurrences of it happening at schools, and even some of the girls I have worked with shared similar stories. No one knows why it happens, but it always happens in these close-knit communities, and mostly to women and girls. I was trying to find a way to reference that.

There are many stories about sisterhood today, about women supporting each other no matter what. You show it can be more complicated than that. Girls can be mean to each other.
That’s the reality we live in. Female friendships can be so complicated. There is jealousy, hatred and misunderstanding. It really hasn’t changed! I wanted to explore it, but also show what real support and real love can look like between friends.

At one point, I started to wonder if you were going to keep things ambiguous or fully commit to this idea of a “monster”. How long did it take you to figure out her look? Do you think you will continue to play with genre?
It took us a long, long time. There isn’t one specific look for the weretiger in Malaysia; you mostly find out about it through oral stories. I wanted to incorporate human skin so that the stripes would look like scars. I wanted things that were real but heightened – a bit weird, a bit kitsch. This ugly-pretty-hideous beauty was something I certainly wanted to convey.

I absolutely love genre, and I am so happy that people are more receptive to it now. It’s something I will keep doing because genre doesn’t take itself too seriously, and yet you can use it to talk about many issues that are close to you. I just think it’s always more fun to talk about them with some blood and gore [laughs].

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