Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites
Slamdance Film Festival
Director: Platon Theodoris
Alvin Ng (Teik Kim Pok) is the agoraphobic and endearing protagonist of Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites, a perplexing yet tender film that delves into the confines of Alvin’s world—that is, the one-bedroom apartment that Alvin hasn’t left in over 18 months. Adorned with leafy houseplants, vintage kitchen appliances and innumerable panda toys, Alvin’s apartment is solitary but seemingly comfortable, thanks to the power of online shopping. What little interaction Alvin has mostly comes from his ceaselessly belligerent and obsessive neighbor, Virginia (Vashti Hughes), who is convinced that the apartment complex is infested with fleas; video calls with his boss, Angela (Ailís Logan), for which Alvin puts on a shirt and tie, but not pants; and “tea breaks” with his friend Vijay (Nitin Vengurlekar), where each settle down with mugs of tea and catch up—all over Skype.
The majority of the film is spent depicting Alvin’s banal yet curiously charmed way of life. Writer/director Platon Theodoris’ shots are visually captivating and loaded in imagery, unsparing in mise-en-scène shots of Alvin’s offbeat apartment. Generous footage of Princess Diana memorabilia, antique spoons and (again) an unbelievable amount of pandas intersperse Alvin’s day-to-day activities, which include watering the plants, hanging up the laundry and opening cans of salmon for dinner. When Alvin notices a thick, brown-black sludge dripping from the ceiling, however, the film takes a turn: Alvin is forced to investigate, venturing outside and simultaneously into the depths of his mind.
Soon, Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites takes its pleasant chronicling to something much more ambitious but equally rewarding: part bizarre daydream, part existential rumination and, at times, part controlled horror. In his role, Pok charms as Alvin, delegating his character’s most revealing and suggestive moments to facial expressions and the nonverbal. Theodoris’ directorial style recalls that of David Lynch, sharing in the same tendency to linger on somewhat off-putting visual cues that appear mundane at first, but soon result in palpable discomfort for viewers. Alvin’s own disconnect with the world is emphasized repeatedly through the oddity of his surroundings, which, when paired with an excellent soundtrack, imbues the plot with a heightened sense of drama and the bizarre. Filmed in Sydney, Kalgoorlie and Jakarta, the film locates Alvin’s blurred realities in the midst of expansive vistas and strangers in a foreign land—a land, Alvin soon discovers to his alarm, in which he himself is front and center.
Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites is perplexing, but not so much so that it becomes unapproachable to audiences. Blurring themes of meditation, self-discovery and voyeurism through its peculiar protagonist, the film brings viewers into a slow-moving, surreal world that both disturbs and mystifies, setting audiences on edge as they await what happens next. Here, Theodoris’ delicate hand and knack for the subdued does well toward incorporating moments that are at once absurd and nightmarish, tedious and magical.
Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites will screen at the 22nd Slamdance Film Festival on Jan. 23, 2016 at 7:45 p.m. and Jan. 28, 2016 at 2:30 p.m. For more information about the film, visit alvinsharmoniousworld.com.