Review: Hello Ahma (2019)

Dokufest: International Shorts Selects Series 1

Five-year-old Michelle (Sofie Yu Xuan Yang) is grieving after her grandmother who has recently passed away. To cope with the old woman’s absence, she believes her to be reincarnated in her pet turtle.

In this heart-warming story about a child’s imaginative ways of dealing with death, two worlds are clashing together. “Home” is Singapore, and the big new house in a foreign country is just an excursion. Singapore is the place where her beloved grandmother died and the film opens with Michelle watching the funeral on her mobile phone, a shaky video displying the grieving family and friends. “Do you think she can still reincarnate?”, her voice at the cremation is heard.

Michelle believes that she might somehow be guilty of woman’s soul wandering around, and while her mother (Ying Yuen) is searching for the ideal spot for her inhumation in their family garden and father (Peter Boon Koh) is busy dealing with their immigration papers, the little girl is seeking for answers. She believes that they might be hidden in some of grandmother’s possessions the family brought to the U.S. – in embroidered slippers, or in a bow on the neatly folded dress, maybe even in her favourite chocolate wrappers.

Ancestral shrine becomes a place of comfort which brings back the memories of Ahma (Wu Mama) to life.

Shots of the child and her growing affection for the turtle are done with great concentration on movement and a fairytale-like tête-à-tête interaction. There is probably no way of training a turtle to perform in a movie, and somehow the animal does exactly that by curiously exploring its new tiny owner.

After the world premiere at TIFF in 2019, Hello Ahma competed at a number of festivals, including Berlinale where it had its European premiere this year. The film competes in the International Short competition of Dokufest.

Country: Singapore
Language: Mandarine Chinese
Runtime: 15 minutes
Writer/ director: Syou Tan
Producers: Shinoy Lu, Paul Fishback
Cinematographer: Ariane Muller
Production design: Karu de Jesus Legrand
Editor: Benjamin Tolentino
Cast: Sofie Yu Xuan Yang, Down Ying Juan, Peter Boon Koh, Wu Mama,
Art Director: Dorothy Zhu