At first, there is food. No one speaks. They cook and eat. Then come the words, typed on an old machine, tapped into an online chat room and texted. These are words of love and affection.

The deaf blind woman (Theresa Poh Lin Chan) types in English to her dead fiancé: "Is true love truly there, my love. Yes, if your warm heart is." The teenage girl (Ezann Lee) in her spacious bedroom in a smart suburb of Singapore texts the friend (Lynn Poh) she has not yet met: "C U at 5. Cnt wt!" The fat, ugly security guard (Seet Keng Yew) stalks an elegant businesswoman, who lives in the prestigious apartment block where he works. An old storekeeper (Chiew Sung Ching) patiently feeds his sick wife in hospital. Neither says a word.

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What appears to be a beautifully orchestrated and delicately photographed ensemble piece searches for meaning, even connection. Is it love, or unrequited love, that draws these disparate characters together?

"We all have dreams," the deaf blind woman writes in her autobiography.

So often they do not come true, but there is a moment when they shine like stars and hope carries us in its pocket. Be With Me is full of pain (the agony of a broken heart) and courage (the acceptance of loss) and compassion (selfless generosity revives an ailing spirit).

Co-writer/director Eric Khoo is uncompromisingly loyal to his vision and makes few concessions, which means that the audience must trust him to bring the strands together and slowly, with infinite sensitivity, reveal the secrets that lie beneath.

After the characters have been introduced - the faded age and quiet desperation of the storekeeper, the flighty infatuation of the teenage girls, the emotional isolation and abused sensibility of the security guard - the deaf blind woman takes centre screen.

Her story is remarkable. As a young woman, who only speaks Cantonese, she goes deaf and soon afterwards blind. An intelligent, inquisitive person, she travels to America, learns English well enough to read The New York Times in Braille, and comes back to Singapore, where she is invited to teach at the blind school. Watching her go about her daily life is an exercise in concentration and humility.

Be With Me might have been a biopic, but it isn't, because Theresa Chan's story is one strand in a multi-layered expression of humanity's cruel ironies.

Reviewed on: 26 Oct 2006
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Disparate stories from Singapore on themes of unrequited love and blind courage.
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Director: Eric Khoo

Writer: Eric Khoo, Wong Kim Hoh

Starring: Theresa Poh Lin Chan, Chiew Sung Ching, Ezann Lee, Lynn Poh, Seet Keng Yew, Elizabeth Choy, Jason Tan, Royston Tan, Samantha Tan, Lawrence Yong

Year: 2005

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Singapore


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