This beautiful little film explores the fragile, indeterminate love story between two children in rural Malaysia. Director Yasmin Ahmad’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story feels humid and intimate, echoing its tropical setting. Orked (Sharifah Aryana), a dreamy, independent ten-year-old, lives with her musician father and lovely, British-educated mother in a house on a grassy plain. Over the course of a summer she befriends Mukhsin (Mohd Syafie Naswip), a twelve-year-old boy from a troubled family who’s come to stay with his aunt. They ride bikes and fly kites and make up stories while navigating the nebulous dimensions of their relationship.
Ultimately it’s unclear how Orked feels about Mukhsin, but to manipulate the relationship between the two young protagonists into a recognizable romantic structure seems ridiculous. Like a pre-adolescent romance, the film is hazy in tone and satisfyingly ambiguous. Simple actions like glances and sighs reverberate with potential meanings. Aryana and Naswip are both non-actors, and their interactions are natural and unadulterated. All of the scenes seem colored by sun or candlelight, and are scored by Malaysian folk songs and Nina Simone ballads that sound like they’re coming from a phonograph. Incidental cinematographic elements like ambient sound and grainy picture quality add to the film’s anachronistic quality, further imbuing it with a happy nostalgia that’s not forced or cloying. Ahmad’s passion and sensitivity for her subject matter is evident: Mukhsin seems like a delicate homage to a first love.