Saudade

Saudade is an aural and visual archive narrated entirely in Kristang—a creole language that emerged in 16th century Portuguese colonial Malacca. The film reimagines rituals and choreography characteristic of early Eurasian kampongs in three acts: a song and dance of the Jinkli Nona, a scene between a shrimp fisherman and his wife, and a cross-cultural encounter with the orang minyak.

Using folklore and myth as narrative anchors, Morton weaves his personal identity and allegorical storytelling into cinema to examine the origins of Eurasians. The intermingled Asian and European ancestry of the domiciled community is captured through the seemingly disparate appearance of a supernatural Malay legend alongside characters donning costumes that draw upon the conventions of Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch dress. Set against the exultant energies of the Eurasian imagination, the film tells a story of loss and displacement of a people and its language.

  • Russell Adam Morton
    Director
  • Russell Adam Morton
    Writer
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Experimental
  • Runtime:
    19 minutes 56 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    October 31, 2020
  • Country of Origin:
    Singapore
  • Country of Filming:
    Singapore
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital
  • Aspect Ratio:
    4:3
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    No
  • Student Project:
    No
  • 31st Singapore International Film Festival
    Singapore
    Singapore
    December 1, 2020
    Asian Premiere
    Panorama
  • Sheffield Doc Fest 2021
    Sheffield
    United Kingdom
    June 6, 2021
    International Premiere
  • 25th Fantasia Film Festival
    Montreal
    Canada
    North American Premiere
    In Competition
  • 15th MOTEL/ X International Film Festival
    Lisboa
    Portugal
    European
Director Biography - Russell Adam Morton

Russell Adam Morton is a Singaporean film and visual artist. His short films The Silent Dialogue of All Artworks (2013), The Forest of Copper Columns (2016) and Saudade (2021) explore folkloric myths, esoteric rituals and the conventions of cinema itself. Russell’s work has begun taking a choreographic turn through collaboration with movement and dance artists. As part of residencies and laboratories with dance-film independent collective CineMovement, his collaborative piece with a Hong Kong dance artist was part of Hybrid Motion (2019) for the Jumping Frames International Dance Video Festival (2019). Morton was also the Director of Photography for Ang Song Ming’s Recorder Rewrite, Singapore’s entry the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019. Saudade was commissioned by the Asian Film Archive for State of Motion, Rushes of Time (2020) and was screened at the 31st Singapore International Film Festival (2020). His first feature film project, Penumbra, participated at SGIFF South East Asian Film Lab 2020 and is currently in development with POTOCOL Films.

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Director Statement

Saudade is an audio-visual archive of the vanishing language of kristang - a Portuguese-Malaccan creole which was once the mother tongue of the Eurasian community within Singapore and Malaysia. Narrated entirely in kristang, the film reimagines the rituals of the early Eurasians to tell a story of loss and displacement of culture and consequentially, its language.

The film opens with a dance—the branyo, to the accompaniment of the traditional folk song “Jinkli Nona”. This sequence has been fragmented and abstracted, only leaving a shell of the original choreography and song. This abstraction forces the viewer to piece together the rest of the sequence by drawing from memory or assumption. The branyo is also the foundation of Eurasian culture - for what is culture without dance?

The Eurasians have often been referred to as gragok—the kristang word for shrimp. In the second sequence, a fisherman recalls how the sea channel used to be teeming with gragok, at one point turning the water red and viscous. Land reclamation and construction for new worlds eventually forced the shrimp to search for new waters- an association with the exodus of Eurasians from their hometown in the Portuguese settlement of Malacca to the rest of the world. This vignette is cinematographically explored through a hypnotic display of waters turning from blue to red, together with an invocation to the Eurasians of the world to return back to their origins.

Folklore, ghosts, spirits and rituals are an integral part of an Eurasian upbringing. Many of these elements were borrowed from other cultures - specifically Chinese, Malay, Indian and the West. It is a culture of copying, stealing and assimilation - similar to that characteristics of ghosts - an allegory that is used in the third act of the film. In this part, there is a confrontation with the Orang Minyak (oily man), a ghost that is impossible to catch. Inevitably, the ghost escapes as the orator cries its last plea for help:

“From the shadows, the ghosts lurked, and its influence would now only work on the devoted. For the ghosts only exists when you only believe in it. Now, the ghosts hides away from the non-believers. Its only way to survive is to reclaim its existence in this world and for its stories to continue to exist.”