Tiger Stripes (2022)

May 17th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Amanda Nell Eu; Cast: Zafreen Zairiza, Deena Ezrai, Piqa, Shaheisy Sam, Jun Lojong; Malaysia/Taiwan/Singapore/France/Germany/The Netherlands/Indonesia/Qatar 2023, 95 min.

Amanda Nell Eu goes far beyond the bounds of horror with her astonishing debut feature celebrating its world premiere at this year’s Cannes Critics’ Week. She is the first woman filmmaker from Malaysia to make it into the completion. Shooting was originally planned for 2018 but had to be postponed due to the pandemic.

Set a strictly religious Muslim School for Girls in rural Malaysia, this is a story of liberation via magic. Tiger Stripes unfolds in the playful, slightly ironic style of Jacques Rivette’s early films such as La Bande a Quatre. Her aim here is not scare the audience but make them fully appreciate her heroine’s struggle for liberation.

Zaffan (Zairizal) is twelve years old and puberty is a taboo subject in her strict Muslim household. Any discussion about bodily changes is strictly out of bounds: “you are dirty now” is all she tells her daughter.  Zaffans’ friends are even more aggressive, led by the goody-two-shoe Farah (Ezrai), who isolates Zaffan from her former friends and “shops” her to the school authorities. After the class teacher had a nervous breakdown after dealing with Zaffan, who is now considered an evil spirit, an exorcist tries to liberate the girl from the demon (whilst plying his goods on his mobile) but he is also left defeated – but will Zaffan really be free after escaping to the jungle in her new identity?

Told tongue-in-cheek, Tiger Stripes shows the collusion between a modern technology driven world and traditional Muslim dogma, depriving the girl of freedom and identity: they may have their mobiles, but their status as second class citizen will prevail. Instead of being proud of their bodies, they are told be ashamed to be the ‘Deuxieme Sex’. There is only one way out: magic realism.

DoP Jimmy Gimferrer creates an atmosphere of permanent threat: particularly at night, like on a school outing in the woods, when strange noises keep the girls awake. The creatures of the night, which might help to liberate Zaffan in the end, are not so much present, but are everywhere. Two worlds collide. And Zaffan’s parents and the school authorities are very much afraid of the magic world: they have never left the world of their childhood, and religion is just a way of convenience.

A roller-coaster of a film, Tiger Stripes makes his point: Girls just want to dance and have fun. With a firework of ideas, EU burns down the real walls of imprisonment with a magical firework. Brilliant. AS


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