What makes a movie great?
Is it the special effects? The boisterous costumes? The dangerous stunt work?
When entering a cinema hall, we all expect different things to wow us but for the most part, I don’t think a great film has anything to do with camera tricks or costume design.
In my humble opinion, what makes a film truly fantastic is its ability to change us after the credits roll.
When the screen that was showing Mentega Terbang dimmed at its finale, there was not a single dry eye in the hall or a single soul that left the building without new questions that they had to ask themselves about individuality, religion and mortality.
To give you context, the film revolves around an endlessly curious 16-year-old Malay-Muslim girl named Aisyah.
She’s your average girl-next-door except for the fact that she’s knee-deep in the Quran, Bible, Torah and Vedas, searching for the looming answer to the question that plagues every living person, “What happens when we die?”
Whenever she’s not buried in books and existential dread, she spends her time soaking up the sun with her terminally ill mother and her interminably devoted father while her new whip-smart friend, Suresh provides further insight into different religions.
Check out the teaser below:
With that, why is Mentega Terbang a movie that every Malaysian should watch?
JUICE received the privilege to attend an exclusive screening of the film and before it started, one of the filmmakers prefaced that they sent the film to FINAS for a wide release but was promptly rejected.
I thought to myself, This film oughtta be really good then…
Being relatively well-versed in the Malaysian film industry’s affinity towards censorship, as soon as the movie started with a discussion at dinner on Bible verses and pre-marital sex involving a Muslim family, it was a no-brainer as to why FINAS did not want this in theatres.
However, as illustrated by other locally banned films, Mentega Terbang proved to be an essential film, especially for Malaysians.
Putting it in simple terms, our relationship with religion relies heavily on how we were raised and how our parents approached our questions while we were children.
For most of us, questioning the existence of God can lead to hour-long angry lectures even if our curiosity comes from innocence bereft of any malice.
When met with such hostility, some grow to be resentful and only adhere to the religion out of fear of being told-off again.
In reality, religion is a faith and it should be something we choose for ourselves based on how we connect with it.
Mentega Terbang approaches this with grace and the functionality of Aisyah’s family highlights what is truly lacking in Malaysian society and Malaysian cinema, which is the openness to discuss complex topics without an alarm blaring, indicating that you have crossed some proverbial line in the sand.
The film shows that it is normal to ask whether or not your religion is the right one for you, despite what the censorship board and the government might lead you to think.
But with the stern governing of Islam in Malaysia, these questions are not asked in public let alone on a bold yet vulnerable platform such as film.
So when Mentega Terbang brazenly portrays a Muslim girl reading the Bible and eating pork while her Hindu friend eats beef, a Muslim man with tattoos performing prayers and a Muslim woman touching dogs amongst a checklist of other “taboos”, it acts almost as a needed protest to the way we are being silenced from talking about things that actually happen everyday in our country.
With that said, while Mentega Terbang is integral to our growth in understanding differing stances on religion, not many can stomach the inundating sensitivities that saturate the film.
From our short chat with writer and director, Khairi Anwar, he mentioned how some people walk-out of the film due to how much it pokes the hornet’s nest.
During a particular heated scene in the movie, where Aisyah has a stand-off with her ultra conservative neighbour, Uncle Kasim, members of the audience – including myself – were visibly cringing in our seats due to how uncomfortable it was.
A testament to great writing and incredible acting notwithstanding, the scene was proof that even the most laid-back of audiences can feel discomfort over the messages that are being delivered on screen.
There are definitely moments where you might get hot under the collar since the film depicts two extreme sides of the spectrum when it comes to religion but, there is a quote from the film to help you moderate that emotion.
As eloquently said by Aisyah’s mother, “It’s easy to respect someone with the same opinions as you. But respecting someone with different opinions, that takes great courage.”
Portraying the irrational anger towards something as inevitable as death, the loneliness of grief, the unconditional devotion of family and the sometimes silent yet undying support of friendship, Mentega Terbang approaches nuances with care yet effortless ease.
While the themes of religion, mortality and individuality are the focus of the film, it is further propelled by brilliant storytelling, powerful acting and a wonderfully intimate familial bond that vibrantly colours an otherwise bleak film surrounding death.
That is why we at JUICE implore you to watch Mentega Terbang and judge it for yourself.
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Mentega Terbang is currently having showtimes from 17 to 19 December for the general public but of course, tickets are limited so get them while you can!
To stay updated with the movie’s showtimes, follow them on Instagram.