Indonesian Mini Film Festival (March 25-27)

Introduction

About 400 films are made in the U.S. each year.  Even more (600) are made in India.  But, did you know that about 100 films are made in Indonesia each year?  The Indonesian ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Dino Patti Jalaland his wife were joined by the Singaporean ambassador’s wife, actor Nicholas Saputra (star of Joni’s Promise), and members of his staff during the first film showing.  Recently, Dr. Jalal met with Hollywood director Michael Mann, who will be shooting his film, The Philosopher, in Jakarta.  The film’s lead actor will be Aussie actor, Chris Hemsworth.

Lovely Man (2011)

Screeshot from the Indonesian drama, Lovely Man
A daughter gets to know her absentee father for one night

This is a 75 minute film, but it packs some big punches.  (It won many awards in Asia.)  It focuses on the relationship between a transvestite streetwalker in Jakarta and a small-town/devout Muslim teen, who just happen to be father and daughter. Without telling her mother, Cahaya (Raihaanun), travels by train to see the father who left home many years back.  Cahaya is dressed conservatively and wears a white hijab (headscarf).  When she gets off the train, she stops at a mosque to wash and pray.  She’s amazed by the sights and sounds of the big city, as she goes in search of her father’s address.  (This film uses shadow and lights very well.)  At the side of a bridge, she talks to some women (who are obviously streetwalkers).  She meets Ipuy (Donny Damara)- dressed in long wig, sparkly red dress, and high heels (reminiscent of some of the characters in the films of Pedro Almodovar).  Needless to say, they are both shocked.

Actor Donny Damara accepting an award
Actor Donny Damara accepting an award

Ipuy wants nothing to do with Cahaya- his life is tough enough as it is.  Most people look at him with disgust and treat him unfairly.  What would a hijabi like her know about someone like him?  (Eventually, Cahaya takes off her hijab, to make her father more comfortable.)  She’s carrying a secret, which is giving her much worry.  Cahaya exclaims that she needs a father to talk to about important matters.  What she doesn’t know is that some gangsters are after Ipuy for stealing a lot of cash.

Joni’s Promise (2005)

Joni goes through a LOT in one day
Joni goes through a LOT in one day

This funny, light-hearted film is considered to be “one of the first comedies made in Indonesia.”  (It reminded me of a French comedy.)  A 22 year-old man, Joni (Nicholas Saputra) delivers film reels- a job he likes and considers to be quite important.  One afternoon, she sees a very pretty girl standing in line at the theater, but he’s too nervous to talk to her.  We learn that she’s with her boyfriend (an entitled rich kid).  She gets fed up with her guy, so she goes out.  She notices Joni’s good nature and they have a chat.  She doesn’t get her name or get give his out.  The girl says that they can talk more of he gets done with his deliveries on time.  Joni is happy with that- he’s never had a girlfriend yet.  Joni’s motorbike gets stolen, he witnesses childbirth, gets a walk-on role in a film, plays the drums, and meets a mysterious artist.  Can he make it back to the theater to have his first date?     

IMDB photo of actor Nicholas Saputra
IMDB photo of actor Nicholas Saputra

The Dancer (2011)

Srintil and Rasus share some fruit
Srintil and Rasus share some fruit

This is a full-length historical drama based on a trilogy of novels.  The story focuses on the love between two young people in the village of Dukuh Paruk in Java.  As a small child, the parents of Srintil are killed by some fellow villagers, who believed that they were poisoning food.  The ronngeng (village dancer) also died- she ate the food.

The teenaged Srintil (Prisia Nasution) and Rasus (Oka Antara) love each other deeply, though they are poor, illiterate, and don’t have many prospects.  Rasus works in the rice paddy fields, like the other young men.  However, Srintil thinks that she may have the spirit and the talent to become ronggeng.  Her grandfather champions her cause, even though they are first met with doubt and derision.  The local dance master won’t come to see Srintil perform.

Srintil goes through various rituals to become ronggeng
Srintil goes through various rituals to become ronggeng

Rasus has a little dagger-like object which belonged to the former ronggeng.  After he presents it to Srintil, everyone proclaims her to be the next ronngeng.  She will not only dance , but belong to the village.  Her virginity will be sold to the highest bidder- a fact that greatly upsets Rasus.  (The elderly blind drummer is the only older person who senses what is going on with the couple.)  Rasus runs away to the nearest town, then meets with a military commander (who thinks he could one day become a “loyal” soldier).

Srintil realizes that Rasus has joined the military
Srintil realizes that Rasus has joined the military

Srintil has to go through various rituals, aided by the dance master’s wife.  Men bring goats, cows, and money to present to her grandfather and teacher.  Before the “deflowering” ceremony, Rasus returns and they sneak off together.  Later that night, Srintil pushes him away, explaining that she can’t run away with him forever.  (We know that she has status and money in her community now.)

Srintil shines as a dancer (but not in her personal life)
Srintil shines as a dancer (but not in her personal life)

While Srintil adapts to the lifestyle of a dancer, Rasus adapts to that of a soldier.  His superiors look on him well and he finally learns to read.  He crosses paths with Srintil on very few occasions.  They only spend one more night together, but their lives must always be separate.  When Srintil urges him to come back to the village and offers money to start his own business, Rasus refuses (too proud).

A (Communist) man from the city comes to talk to the villagers, but they only want more food, and don’t grasp what allegiance to his ideas truly mean.  (In fact, 1965-1966 was a very bloody year was Indonesia’s history.  Many people, who were thought to be Communist or sympathizers, were killed by the military.)  This man also wants Srintil and village musicians to perform at his rallies.

Rasus and Srintil meet after the1965 war
Rasus and Srintil meet after the 1965 war

This film is very powerful!  It won the 2011 Best Picture award in Indonesia and was submitted for a Foreign Film Academy Award.  It just draws you in with it’s setting, characters, and values (which are quite different from those of urbanized, modern Indonesia).  The love story starts out very gently and innocently, then we see the darker aspects (depression, frustration, etc.)- this pair must stay apart because of Srintil’s chosen path.  Being a village dancer was being above others- connected to the gods (ancestors.)

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Silver Linings Playbook / Kai po che!

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Dance brings two troubled people together in this (unlikely) hit film

The silver lining is actually the fact that there is an audience for sensitive/grown-up films like this one!  Bradley Cooper (never overacting) and Jennifer Lawrence (a naturally gifted actress) fall in love, despite their respective issues (hey, we all got’em).  This is shot like a ’60s film, an avid moviegoer in my office said, with long takes.  It’s a treat to see DeNiro, who looks to be in fine form (and great shape, too).  Chris Tucker gets a few funny moments, but doesn’t overdo it.   Who says the psychological issues can’t be dealt with using humor!?  (The only odd note was the racial incident involving the therapist, his fellow Indian football fans, and some angry white guys.)  Also, there is a great interview w/ director David O. Russell on Fresh Air w/ Terry Gross (NPR) that I recommend you listen to. 

Kai po che!  (2013)

Indians going crazy for cricket (as usual)

This is a film for folks who avoid (or even abhor) typical Bollywood fare.  Why?  It’s well-acted (no joke), well-written, and just keeps your attention (watchable).  There is a bit of romance and great music, too.  It’s about three idealistic friends (more like brothers) who open a sports store in the city of Ahmedabad.  One has the business savvy, the other a passion for cricket, and the third procures a loan.  They also discover a pre-teen cricket prodigy (Muslim) who they nurture. Then, a series of (true) events occur which affect all their lives deeply.  Check this film out! 

FanstRAvaganza 4: Re-watching North & South (Episode 4)

Opener
Nicholas can’t get work anywhere, though he’s a good worker.  He’s known as a union leader by all the masters.  Margaret tells her father that things could work out if Nicholas and Thorton could talk “man to man.”

Mrs. Thornton has a talk with Margaret

Two strong ladies go at it!  Mrs. Thornton comes to warn Margaret about her behavior, saying that “many a young lady has lost her character” by being out late at night with a man.  Margaret cuts her off, saying that she’s not going to just sit there and take such insults.

Thornton talks with Mr. Lattimer, the banker

I don’t think anyone ever accused me of being careless!

Here we see our man very worried and on edge- he snaps at Mr. Lattimer for no good reason, then asks forgiveness.  When Lattimer mentions “speculation,” Thornton gets very stiff and serious.  (Remember that his father killed himself after he “speculated wildly.”)

Nicholas meets with Thornton 

I’m a steady man.  I work hard.

With his cap in hand, Nicholas comes to ask for work at Marlboro Mills.  Thornton turns him away.  Nicholas says he was sent “by a woman who thought” Thornton “had a kindness” about him.  This piques Thornton’s curiosity.

The Thorntons at home

Fanny is riding high now that she’s engaged to Watson, another of the Milton mill owners.  She cut down Margaret again, calling her “so severe.”  When she mentions speculation, John tells her angrily that “there is nothing certain about speculation!”  (The emotion in Armitage’s voice is so strong and powerful!)  The little joke (about Fanny’s spending) and smile at the end of the scene is just wonderful, too.

Thornton comes to the Higgins home

Thornton sees the little children (of Boucher) playing and reading.  Thornton admits that he could not have taken on “a man such as Boucher’s children.”  He asks Higgins’ forgiveness, offers him work, and they shake on it.

Thornton, Tommy, and Higgins in the mill yard

Tommy is learning how to read when Thornton comes over (helps with pronouncing “animal”).  Both men have been working late.  Thornton and Higgins discuss the importance on having a good meal for both working and studying (thinking of Tommy).  Higgins has an idea that might work.  The two men have a grudging respect for each other. 

Higgins and Thornton
Higgins and Thornton

Aftermath of Mr. Hale’s death

Look back.  Look back at me. 

Mr. Hale dies (peacefully) while on a reunion trip to Oxford.  Aunt Shaw comes to take Margaret home (her house in London).  Margaret apologizes to Mrs. Thornton for her previous behavior.  She gives her father’s copy to Plato to Mr. Thornton and politely wishes him well.  Her eyes are sad, as are his.  Then we have the great “look back” moment as Thornton watches the coach drive away in the snow.  He feels a great loss, knowing that she will never come back to Milton.

Visit to Helstone

After three months in London, Margaret is still wearing black (color of mournng), which worries cousin Edith.  Mr. Bell takes her for a visit to Helstone, but things are different from when she was a girl.  Margaret thinks back to her time in Milton, and tells Mr. Bell about the drama at the train station and its aftermath.  She feels bad because Mr. Thornton knows she lied.  Is that all?  Her godfather wonders.

Mr. Bell settles his affairs

Mr. Bell signs off most of his fortune to Margaret before sailing for South America to live out the last of his days (he’s ill).  Margaret is “landlord in name only” of Marlboro Mills.  When he tries to explain more to Thornton, the younger man cuts him off.  Thornton is too busy with his financial problems to deal with anything else.  We see him even sleeping in his office.

The Ending

North-and-South-mill
Mr. Thornton’s mill stands empty

We learn that Marlboro Mills has gone under.  Thornton feels the loss keenly, of course.  His mind goes back to Margaret- they met in the mill.  Higgins “got up a petition” of men that would be willing to work again for Thornton.  Then we have the big reveal about Margaret’s brother- finally!  See the relief and happiness on Thornton’s face?

n&s_ep4_mh
Margaret sees Thornton at the train station

This mini-series has one of the best pay-offs, in my opinion.  Margaret and John finally connect and share one of the best (effective) onscreen kisses you’ll ever see!  (Trust me, I’ve seen a lot of TV shows and movies.)  These characters have grown and changed over the course of the four episodes (about 2 years).  Each episode reveals more about their personalities, feelings, values.  Margaret gets on the train with Thornton to return to Milton, which will truly be her home.

Hats off to Richard Armitage for bringing Mr. Thornton to life!  It’s a great and nuanced performance (for all you newbie fans).  It’s not just about being brooding, smoldering, or whatnot- it’s about the subtlety of his acting.  Even in today’s (modern/liberal-minded) world, it’s rare to see a leading man who can also be vulnerable (another fine example: Mad Men star Jon Hamm).  Thanks for reading! 

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