The Dove Never Breaks Its Promise
6 Mar 2022
Tengku Adrian Ismail
Tengku Adrian Ismail
Iman Zulkarnain, Lugman Junaidi, Adman Salleh
HIV/AIDS is still huge problem in parts of the world, not least in Malaysia where the short ‘The Dove Never Breaks Its Promise’ originates from. Every day in Malaysia, almost 10 people are diagnosed HIV positive and more than 100,000 people have been diagnosed with the disease since the first case in the country in 1986. AIDS has caused the deaths of more than 13,000 Malaysians, and whilst in the West we see it as a problem we long ago overcame, its a telling reminder that the same is not true for everywhere in the world.
‘The Dover Never Breaks Its Promise’ is also a telling reminder that being homosexual is not accepted in all cultures around the world. More than 70 countries around the world still criminalise homosexuality - it was less than 50 years ago that it was decriminalised in the UK and in parts of America there are still laws prohibiting the rights of LGBT folk. In Malaysia, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons are prohibited from expressing their sexuality. Sodomy is a crime and laws are strictly enforced with punishments of up to 20 years in jail and the authorities will also bring the person to corporal punishment. In the West we like to think that the world has moved on, and everyone is more accepting than they once were, sadly that’s not the case everywhere.
‘The Dove Never Breaks Its Promise’ tells the story of a HIV-infected man, Norman (Iman Zulkarnain), who struggles to cope with thoughts of suicide in the wake of his diagnosis and as he copes with the inescapable fact that he’ll likely die. Norman is a shy man in his early twenties, cast out by his father, played by Adman Salleh, as is often the way with in Malaysia when parents find out their children are homosexual. Norman lives alone with his dove, who stays in its birdcage - the dove is the only one that can truly comfort him. His former lover, Izuan (Luqman Junaidi) comes round to visit, asking how he is following the diagnosis. They’ve been apart three years but Izuan still cares for Norman, breaking up and marrying Fazia was the only way he could stay safe. The two talk, searching endlessly for ways out of their desperate plight. There isn’t one.
Norman knows this, hence why he’s suicidal, a major health problem associated with HIV/AIDS. Suicide rates among people living with HIV/AIDS are more than three times higher than the general population, a telling inditement of just how difficult it must be to suffer from such a diagnosis. The film is directed with a tenderness befitting of the sensitive subject matter. Director Tengku Adrian Ismail was inspired by the short story ‘Al Ghaist’ by Fadli Al-Akiti and he tells it with heart and care for the gentleness of the subject matter. That doesn’t mean that he skirts around the edges, rather that he tells the story in such a sympathetic way that you’ll do well not to have tears in your eyes by the end.
The acting is impressive from both Zulkarnain and Junaidi, who have good chemistry together and the conversation between the two of them flows effortlessly. Zulkarnain is excellent as Norman, with a tear-jerking performance of bravery in the face of hopelessness. Junaidi, with his strikingly long hair, comes across as the more confident of the pair and also catches the eye. Adman Salleh is solid with little to say and asserts his presence onto the film.
The score is similarly amazing, with the sound of a piano gently rising and falling throughout, it matches the sombre tone of the short to a tee, and would not be out of place in a feature length film. However, the biggest issue with the film is also to do with sound because although the score is magnificent, the sound mixing is torrid and often breaks the tight, enclosed mood of the short, with an unnaturally loud closing of a door, especially when contrasted with the quiet whispers of the dialogue.
‘The Dove Never Breaks Its Promise’ is an essential short, if only to serve as a poignant reminder that many parts of the world still suffer from HIV/AIDS and even more still criminalise homosexuality. Tengku Adrian Ismail has created a tear-jerking short, which tells an important story with masterful direction and all-round terrific performances.