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CANNES 2023 Critics' Week

Review: Tiger Stripes


- CANNES 2023: Malaysia's Amanda Nell Eu drills down into the turmoil of female puberty with a refreshing first feature film where genres collide and society is playfully mocked

Review: Tiger Stripes

"This young woman in front of you isn't your daughter any more". There have been so many films tackling the transition from childhood to adolescence and its unavoidable rites of passage, from all kinds of angles and in all manner of forms, that you'd think it incredibly difficult, if not altogether impossible, to find a new approach. But this is exactly what Malaysian filmmaker Amanda Nell Eu has pulled off with Tiger Stripes [+see also:
interview: Amanda Nell Eu
film profile
, which was presented in competition at the 62nd edition of the Critics' Week, hosted by the 76th Cannes Film Festival.

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What's the recipe for her success? She blends a classic teen movie with the ups and downs of close friendships turning sour and ending in harassment, adding a sci-fi story of physical mutation into the mix (think David Cronenberg's The Fly), along with a playful, detached yet caustic portrait of society, where religion and superstitions intertwine. She then places it within a small, rural town enclosed by a lush jungle (hiding a river and waterfall) where youngsters film themselves using the mobiles, as they do everywhere else in the world, and it all comes together to form an insolent and vibrant first feature film, which is both local and universal, and which says a great deal about the female condition without ever taking itself too seriously. 

"You're making an exhibition of yourself, you're bringing shame onto our family." Zaffan (Zafreen Zairizal) is a shameless teen. Everything makes her laugh, including trying on a sexy bra in the high school toilets, under the half-shocked ("only slappers wear this type of bra"), half-admiring gaze of her two best friends Farah (Deena Ezral) and Mariam (Piqa). Her mother and the headteacher of the school are even less impressed by Zaffan's ongoing infringements of rules and traditions, but she doesn't care: she's 12 years old and she wants to carry on playing, splashing around in the river and filming herself dancing. But a certain event changes everything: her first period. Not only does the collective tighten its grip around Zaffan to the point of ostracising and bullying her, the young woman's body also begins to change to an unexpected extent: she secretly mutates into a tiger, which has a hysterical ripple effect on all of her entourage. Is she a woman or a demon? Both religion and exorcism are called to her rescue…

An audacious parable rivalling the scale of Muslim Asia, Tiger Stripes gets straight to the heart of female intimacy, amidst blood and water, normality and irrationality, friendship and jealousy. Adding a comedy-horror sci-fi layer onto the traditional themes of discovering ourselves and our bodies, the teenage desire for rebellion and realising how hard it is to escape the grip of the collective, Amanda Nell Eu finds an original, feminist approach, which she teams with a firm grasp of mise en scène techniques and narrative pace, notably taking advantage of the lush vegetation all around her (a special mention should go to Spanish director of photography Jimmy Gimferrer). They're an array of qualities which lend this seemingly upfront first feature film a highly refreshing air, with its art of playfully clearing the shadows wrongfully clouding women's lives. 

Tiger Stripes was produced by Malaysia's Ghost Grrrl Pictures in co-production with Taiwan's Flash Forward Entertainment, Singapore's Akang Film Asia, France's Still Moving, Germany's Weydemann Bros, Holland's PRPL and Indonesia's Kawankawan Media. International sales fall to Films Boutique.

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(Translated from French)

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