|Synopsis for: Utama – Every Name in History is I
This is a film about the founding of Singapore, a small island state in Southeast Asia. In the indigenous Malay tongue, ‘Singa’ means lion, while ‘pore’ is derived from the word ‘pura’, or city. In official accounts of its history, Singapore was founded in 1819 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, as part of the British colonial empire. However, virtually little is known about the other, pre-colonial founder of Singapore, who is believed to have founded Singapore sometime between the 13th and 14th century. Commonly referred to as Sang Nila Utama, regarded as the ‘first’ king of the Malays and said to be heir to a glorious lineage of great kings and immortals. Utama was said to have given Singapore its name after encountering a lion along its shores. This anecdote has often been questioned because lions are not a species indigenous to this area. For many historians, Utama’s existence is itself a major issue of doubt – he was known under a variety of names and pseudonyms, and attributed with a multiplicity of identities and stories, many of which are contradictory in nature.
The only way to tell the tale of this founder who was not ‘one’, but a multiplicity of possible identities is by resorting to allegory. Thus in this film, names, references and stories from all over the world multiply in a mad proliferation -thus Alexander the Great, Julius Cesar, Raja Chulan, Raja Shula, King Solomon, King David of the Jews, Vasco de Gama, Captain Cook, Christopher Columbus, the great Chinese navigator Admiral Zheng He, Sir Stamford Raffles, Diana, the Greek Goddess of the Hunt and of Chastity, Actaeon the greatest hunter of Greece are figures that continually haunt this film. And the impossibility of locating an origin for the island-state of Singapore is thus expanded into an almost ‘universal’ condition – the impossibility of locating fundamental sites of identity, the impossibility of truth, of certainty.
At the level of the film’s form, the mode of narration switches oscillates between the ‘second person’ voice of a dramatic enactment and the ‘third person’ voice of a narrator. This oscillation between narrative modes expresses the instability of the film’s ‘content’. Instead of unfolding in a linear mode, this film has the structure of the ‘eternal return’. It is composed of a multiplicity of little self-enclosed circles, all of which resonate in order to generate a coordinated chorus.
This mode of narration is as much inspired by the practices of storytellers of the ‘oral tradition’ who were responsible for the transmission of myths in the early stages of many civilizations, as being an attempt to engage with explorations with the infinite possibilities of film as a medium.
Ho Tzu Nyen