CAPSULE: SHIRKERS (2018)

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DIRECTED BY: Sandi Tan

FEATURING: Sandi Tan, Jasmine Kin Kia Ng, Sophia Siddique Harvey, Georges Cardona

PLOT: In the summer 1992, Sandi Tan and her friends filmed “Shirkers”, only to have their would-be feature debut spirited away by their enigmatic guru, Georges Cardona.

COMMENTS: A quick look at IMDb will show you that Georges Cardona was not involved in the production of Apocalypse Now. And though one of his protegés was involved in making Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Georges was not, nor was it possible that he was the basis of James Spader’s character Graham. Georges was not born on a ship heading out from Germany in 1949. What his life actually consisted of was stories, stories he would tell to anyone who would listen—and many did, including Sandi Tan. Something of an awkward teenager, Sandi felt repressed by her Singaporean upbringing, and felt liberated by the transcendental intellectual attraction and attention from Georges Cardona, a mysterious film teacher who believed in her as much as he probably believed in his own fabricated history.

But Shirkers is not about Georges Cardona. It is a movie memoir about Sandi and her friends Jasmine and Sophia, who did the unthinkable in Singapore in 1992. With no training and no money, but with superhuman drive and ever-percolating minds, Sandi & Co. filmed a story about a strange collector of people, titled “Shirkers.” Shirkers, the documentary about that film’s strange production history, is the director’s personal recollections and interviews with those involved, spliced with footage from the original project along with various contemporary private recordings, many featuring Georges Cardona: one of the most mysterious entities to grace a film, as well as a mystical influence in lives of many filmmakers and storytellers.

Shirkers is a masterful documentary. The facts behind the whole mystery-shebang would have been adequate to keep my attention without any bells, hooks, and whistles, but Sandi Tan proves as adept at spinning a yarn as she is at documenting her life over the past quarter century. The flow is constantly interrupted by asides, proliferating like branches of narrative that miraculously reconverge by the story’s end. Her narration suggests fragility, and at times resignation, but beneath her entire recounting one can hear a strength of character, forged in no small part by the fools-gold Svengali whom she met at her most impressionable stage in life. Sandi’s reunion with her two dear friends after so many years of intermittent contact feel genuine, because her friends pull no punches when reminiscing about that fraught and bizarre summer of their early adulthood.

Again, this isn’t the story of Georges Cardona. But he is the central prop—the elephant in the story that cannot be ignored, but cannot be perceived except in pieces, like in the parable of the blind men. Georges insinuated himself into the lives of young and talented raconteurs, but in the case of Sandi Tan, Shirkers is her story, and how she managed to live her own life despite this massive weight of egocentric mystery that encumbered her for decades.

Shirkers is a Netflix exclusive.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There’s no counting the creative projects begun in youth that have been abandoned, forgotten, scrapped. Sandi Tan’s bears the weird and painful distinction of having been stolen.” -Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)

Where to watch Shirkers

One thought on “CAPSULE: SHIRKERS (2018)”

  1. I’m so glad you reviewed this, and it’s recommended. I found it to be a really compelling story. It also made me wish the original feature film had been made because it sounds like it would have been a pretty weird movie. The glimpses of the original footage were the highlights for me.

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