Movie Review: Dreaming & Dying

Screened at El Gouna Film Festival 2023

One-liner: While modest, disconnected, naive and outlandish, this is an absurb, quirky, original and magically surreal drama.

Experimental Singoporean fantasy drama, Dreaming & Dying, is possibly one of the strangest films you will ever see. Centred on three middle-aged people, the surreal drama weaves a curious tapestry of water and light as absurdist humour plays off peculiar dialogue. Written and directed by Nelson Yeo, Dreaming & Dying seems to be in pursuit of true originality, defying established genres, telling story as if by association and opting for a naive technique when it comes to cinematography.

A modest production, Yeo has managed to accomplish much with what appear to be hard limitations. A cast of three with nature serving as a versatile shapeshifting element, he’s invested his resourceful creativity in making scenes click and shots jump off the screen. Leveraging the brilliance of nature with the shimmer of water and the beauty of green trees, the daydream aspect of this film is heightened. Using some fairly campy and kaleidoscopic visual effects to tell this latent love triangle story, the modest production is self aware enough to poke fun while creating a new dimension between real and unreal.

The performances are in a bittersweet state of flux, mostly within the realm of funny quips as repetition attempts to add to the dreamlike state. Having a relatively short running time of 77 minutes, it’s quite an achievement to keep an audience transfixed with such skimpy storytelling and characterisation. The eclectic and sweded feel to Dreaming & Dying make it a constant curiousity as the absurdist sense of humour keeps us on the hook. Much like a David Lynch film, there’s not much point in waiting for the actual meaning to breach the surface as the trio confront their demons and contend with the residue of a bygone love triangle.

dreaming and dying movie

“Could everyone stop dreaming and dying, please?”

Starring Peter Yu, Doreen Toh and Kelvin Ho, Dreaming & Dying isn’t a particularly demanding actor’s film. Conjuring a candid atmosphere where lines could have been improvised or discussed minutes before shooting, it’s not all that impressive if you had to deconstruct the film scene-by-scene. Sparsely scripted and typically relying on longer shots, the actors could have been directed with verbal cues. Having the opening credits arrive quite late into the film with titles at regular intervals confirms Dreaming & Dying‘s appetite for the unconventional.

As a curiousity, it’s a welcome refresh from the rigid form and spectacle that constitutes today’s filmmaking standards. While it gets by on inspiration over budget, Yeo’s knack for the unpredictable keeps you guessing. From its unusual bellows to anthropomorphic tendencies, the symbolism of water as emotion carries through to offer a sense of continuity, finding the characters set against a variety of beautiful natural watery vistas. An oddity, it manages to create some magical moments that transcend budgetary restraints, yet in spite of its flair will reduce many to the divisive Napoleon Dynamite effect where you either love or hate it.

The bottom line: Quirky

splingometer 5