Dec 30, 2009

A Jubilant Decade of Indonesian Film

Around ten years ago, the words “Indonesian film awakening” served merely as a jargon with no clear horizon on the sights.

Cut to the present time, the seemingly larger-than-life statement above has turned into reality.

(3 Hari Untuk Selamanya, photo courtesy of Kineforum)
Seeing one Indonesian film title played in two cinema halls (or what we have known as Cineplex) out of five or six halls has become a common view, and hardly a week goes by without a new Indonesian film released.

What once was a rarity now has become a staple that every cinema vies for a share of local film. 
Once shut with full force, with almost two-decade of history recollection when the local film scene was reduced to miniscule as then-New Order government made a certain trade arrangement with the US, now local film dominates the local cinema with common assumption of 55%-60% market share.

The glorifying numbers prove as magnets for many, as many new players have tried to venture to filmmaking business.
Some fail, some have been hailed as champions. 
Some old players expand their businesses making the so-called second-line companies, focusing on either lower-budget production scales or making much more commercial-friendly products, and some even excelled at both.

Yet, some reigning problems remain intact.

The word ‘assumption’ is still used to prelude the numbers above, as on other numbers of box-office receipts, total audiences per film, and many other much-needed data that common filmgoers like we all find it hard to access. 

We are still miles away from gaining transparent information at the tip of our fingers when it comes to local film, as simple as release dates and what’s coming ahead next years. 

Playing by ears, getting personal contacts to exhibitors, producers and filmmakers are still the rules of thumbs to gain access of such basic information, which explain why coverage of local film has become a scarce commodity, against the overflowing of such in local cinemas.

Still, we flock to watch those films in big screens.

At least, some of us who still care and are willing to set aside the fatigue feeling of cramming and watching many local films that, admit it, some of them replicate one another from a similar formula, be it the successful genre or stars.

Be it pride or for some necessity, it does actually feel good to live in a time when local flavors rule above the imported ones. 

The excitement may be reduced slightly, as number of local films grows, unlike the early years when a local film could still be performing strongly. 

Now, as the competition grows stiff, two films in a week could easily kill off another if the box-office results in the first three days are not satisfying.

For filmgoers, though, satisfaction is a very personalized matter, and so is the experience of watching the film itself. 

As such, the following list of film is a highly subjective film-going experience that ranges from cringe to applause. 

It is not the list of the best films of the decade, but these are the films that have shaped the overall course of Indonesian cinema for the past decade.

Recalling memory of what has happened in the past decade is not an easy feat. 

Temptations were bound to correct and revise, yet, what matters most are the films themselves. 
These are the films that stick stronger to the writer’s memory, as I gladly recall the experiences of watching those in big cinemas, and reacted to the films in various manners. 

All of those eventually lead to one feeling of proud and certainty that Indonesian film will do better in many years to come.

In alphabetical order, the 10 defining Indonesian films of the decade are:

(courtesy of this blog)

Simply put, every high school era should have its own definitive film that is worth remembering and has been standing to the test of time because of the good remembrance. 

Those high schoolers of 1980s had Rano Karno and Yessy Gusman in Gita Cinta Dari SMA, while the 1990s generations were pretty much left with big void of no local films at all, and the 2000s batches should be proud of having this well-made teenage film as, simply put, their own.

The film has given us a staple of young actors with above-average star qualities that are still productive to date, and the poster remains one of the most outstanding artworks of local film posters up to now. 

The minor downside is that we are introduced to Melly Goeslaw, the composer with formulaic soundtracks that get tiresome after a while.

(courtesy of this blog)

The biggest Muslim country in the world could actually produce a nail-biting comedy that features two prominently gay characters in leading roles. 

Beyond that, the film gave a vivid caricature of well-educated and upper-level people in Jakarta that has been almost unparalleled in subsequent years. 

Through this film, a new star named Tora Sudiro is born, a director named Nia Dinata was at her best, and a scriptwriter named Joko Anwar started showing off his witty claws.

(courtesy of this blog)

Love it, hate it, there is no in-between, mixed-up feeling towards the film.
Seeing the film on a midnight screening on Saturday night, in a plush cinema of downtown Jakarta, where some audiences actually chanted “God is Great” in some scenes have led me to believe that the film managed to do the impossible: tapping the biggest market of Muslim audiences who flock to watch religious-themed drama. 

We were forced to think again how once drama series with ‘religious’ stamps coup big ratings on TV, and the box-office success of the film has spawned followers (including this year’s Ketika Cinta Bertasbih) with no signs of going down yet.

(courtesy of this blog)
(courtesy of this blog)

It’s hard to separate the two, given their close release dates from one another. 

It is no coincidence that the two films, albeit differences in balancing dramatic elements, share the same focuses on sport, sense of nationalism and patriotism, and children. 

Playing to both critical and commercial successes, the two films have given audiences a sense of unabashed romantic pride to the country, and more reason to believe that against big Hollywood summer blockbusters this year, given the right materials that tapped to tireless market of family and children, local films could still perform strongly.

(courtesy of 21 Cineplex)

The mother of true modern Indonesian horror of the decade in many years to come, the film still sets the bar high for the genre.  The eeriness has become some sort of Mecca for contemporary chillers.

The two directors, Jose Poernomo & Rizal Mantovani, may have gone on separate ways to make some great horror films, notably Rizal with Kuntilanak series, but it is not the same with the excitement of finding it the first time. 

The word of mouth of watching the film has sparked many mythical urban legends that were given big screen treatments of their own. 

Suster Ngesot (crawling nurse), anyone?

(courtesy of this blog)

The biggest box-office hit (4.8 million audiences) of all-time is a literary adaptation of the biggest selling Indonesian novel. 

Let’s hope that this is the beginning of a healthy, productive and commercial-friendly affair between big screen and literary sources. 
Also, I shall hope for the beginning of long lists of undiscovered Indonesian tourism spots other than usual portrayals of Bali and Java.

Governments of Bangka and Belitong where the film is set will be forever thankful for the film.

(courtesy of Indosiar)

Rudi Soedjarwo’s career as director has gone high and low, and both each pinnacle and low points often happen very fast that we often lose track of his too-productive outputs. 
The film Mendadak Dangdut was made at the height of his collaborative effort with screenwriter Monty Tiwa.
The result could not be more fruitful: Monty showed his best in delivering punchlines and enjoyable dangdut songs, Rudi brought out the best in all the cast members, and introduced Dwi Sasono as one of the better actors around. 

Rudy and Monty continued to be a dream combo, until their last film together (Mengejar Mas-Mas) before they went separate ways. 
Yet, the unique title goes down well in history as being unusual and often mocked or used in many different creative outlets, and never again in the decade the dangdut music is given the front spotlight like this.

(courtesy of this blog)

Unpretentious, going straight-down-the-line to the core of kicking-and-busting with excellent quality of filmmaking, the film works as a proof that entertainment means not sacrificing production values that come as a package. 

The film gives the  utmost fun experience in local film this year.

(courtesy of this blog)

Maybe common Indonesian filmgoers, inclusive of yours truly, are not supposed to ‘get’ Garin Nugroho’s films. 
Maybe he never makes one for them.  

Yet when the two roads collide, the result is actually explosive and, we don’t think we’ll ever use this word to describe an Indonesian film before: magnificent. 
The gorgeous displays of Javanese rituals, dances and costumes come vividly on big screen, and maybe we just need to get that.

(courtesy of this blog)

The first breakthrough of commercially successful Indonesian film in the past decade, it also combined two rare genres most directors would be scare to death to doing: children and musical.

Forever shaped Sherina’s image, the film also gave bloodline to Miles Films in many years to come, and no other musical attempts came close to the film’s commercial and critical raves.

Alongside of these films, there were some other notable Indonesian films in recent years that, upon seeing them in cinema, we cannot help but marveling at their distinctive visions. These are, in no particular order: 

- Eliana, Eliana, (a very personal favorite) -- still the most heart-tugging film about mother-and-daughter, and about urbanization;  

- Janji Joni, a knowledge on film needs not alienating audiences;
- Berbagi Suami, the start of Nia Dinata’s affair on stories about marginalized women; 

- Pocong, the scariest lot of Indonesian horror after Jelangkung; and, 

- 3 Hari Untuk Selamanya, a road trip that actually does feel like one, in a good way.

For more decades to come, cheers!

Dec 28, 2009

No Year-End Review ... not in a newspaper, at least.

Traditionally, as a few of you may have noticed, I write about year-end review of Indonesian film in The Jakarta Post.
At least I have done that for the past three years in a row: 2006, 2007, 2008.

Little did I realize that we actually were on the end of the first decade of a new millennium (still baffled me: shouldn't it end at the end of 2010?), thus the angle for the usual year-end review article would be changed to something like "a decade in review". 

Next, I submitted my write-up.
I thought the spot had been reserved, yet the editor had assigned the paper's full-time journalist to do the same. I was completely unaware of this.
My submission was rejected immediately.
Not wanting to leave it to a waste, I decided to put it here.

Some of you may be able to tell that this is not my personal writing style. Pretty much it has been suited to cater the paper's needs, as what I have usually done. 

Alas, too bad that it would go to waste without being read to any concerned beings.
I will upload the article once I finish collecting all the necessary images.

In the meantime, season's greetings for everyone!

(UPDATE: Check the full article here.)

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Jakarta, Indonesia
A film festival manager. A writer. An avid moviegoer. An editor. An aspiring culinary fan. A man.