One reason to feel blessed to be born Indonesian is Padang cuisine, my friend once said. For me, a Jakartan whose ancestry never goes back beyond my grandma’s occasional Javanese chitchat, those gulai otak (cow brain curry — don’t comment until you try) reminded me of my childhood better than the rawon or tongseng which cultural identity is getting diluted into regional variations. Even now, with every bite into the soft yellow tofu-like substance, I would drift into these lazy Sunday afternoon where my parents came home with some takeaway Padang food that seemed like a tastebud goldmine. It’s a piece of nostalgia that I could relive almost everywhere with a yellow-red Minang house sticker — perhaps, this “nationally recognized” experience is what drove Adriyanto Dewo and his crew to create what is arguably the first Indonesian culinary film.
To put Tabula Rasa into a genre box called “culinary film” doesn’t mean to play down whatever else happened in the 107 minutes the screen was alive. Much of the story’s cultural diversity are grounded in the metropolitan known as Jabodetabek, the “nobody’s hometown”, with Hans (Jimmy Kobogau) as a homeless youngster from Papua whose once bright footballing future was ruined by his broken leg (and of course, the not-named club that threw him out is to blame). It’s a message severely implied through his limp: Jakarta is a perpetual machine, and those not prepared to adapt will just get shredded away. “What can’t you find in Papua?” his foster mother once said back home, but even with his plans in ruins, Hans is not prepared to return home with failure in his hands. Fortunately, he was saved from ending his life thanks to a classic case of Indonesian hospitality: Mak (Dewi Irawan) found him and brought him home to the Takana Juo, a Padang restaurant tended by her together with Natsir (Ozzol Ramdan) and the cook Parmanto (Yayu Unru). From this point on, the story is bilingual (and even trilingual) through Parmanto grumbling in Minangese and Hans’ Papuan flashback with his foster family. The four woke up at dawn to prepare food and closed the shop after the sun had set, an exhausting but necessary ritual to keep the cash flowing and the pride of Padang cuisine alive.
The enjoyably lengthy scenes of cooking in the very traditional kitchen of Takana Juo were more of a catalyst of things to come, since the hardheaded Parmanto felt his help is no longer needed and decided to move across the road to become the main cook at the fancy new Caniago restaurant (an adage to the ubiquitous Sederhana restaurant), which was a tough decision: in true “merantau” (wandering) spirit, the three of them have built Takana Juo from scratch after they left their hometown due to the 2009 West Sumatera earthquake that costed Mak her son. Following their daily ritual suggest that their moving was more of a necessity than a passion, considering they seem to led fairly normal lives back home. How many Minangese have left their homes for similar reasons, and how are they doing now?
The exploration into the Minang culture, unfortunately, was way more interesting than to nitpick into Hans’ similar background of migration. He traveled alone, way further from his hometown in Serui than Mak from West Sumatera, but sometimes his existence felt reduced into scenes of him playing football and occasional longing for his foster mother. More than anything, Hans played an embodiment of change necessary for Takana Juo to survive and succeed. He can cook savory Papuan dishes, too, but what is a Padang restaurant without dendeng batokok and gulai kepala ikan? Only until the latter third of the film that the food served as more than just a substance of pleasure: Padang food is a manifestation of hope, financial security, and more importantly, the connection to the beloved hometown that they had to leave behind. Even the most hardened heart can be broken in front of the memory contained within these homemade dishes. Combining strong storyline with colorfully grounded scenes, Tabula Rasa’s cinematic tour de force can be contributed to Tumpal Tampubolon’s impeccable screenplay and Amalia TS’ wonderful cinematography, both of which had previously worked on Rocket Rain (2013), as well as producer Lala Timothy that had utmost confidence to let director Adriyanto Dewo helm his feature film debut. Among the ever-growing list of Indonesian New Wave cinema, Tabula Rasa is a film very technically capable to compete on an international level, and hopefully will stand as a national classic in years to come.
Indonesian, Minangese, Papuan (hey, they’re totally different languages)
Runtime: 107 min.
Release date: September 25 2014
Director: Adriyanto Dewo
Writer: Tumpal Tampubolon
Cast: Jimmy Kobogau, Dewi Irawan, Ozzol Ramdan, Yayu Unru
Company: LifeLike Pictures
You are most likely laying in the comfort on your own bed now, a Saturday morning that you can finally enjoy after weeks of working overtime and other bustling activities. You rest your head on your pillow, staring at the ceiling and let the comfort sink into the depth of your mind. You wish you could just take off to the corner of the Earth this very moment, roaming through the jungle of Brazil with a machete or crossing a busy road in Japan with a cup of coffee in your hand. Yet here you are, feeling blessed for the simple fact that you can enjoy your weekend eating potato chips while watching movies. Sedentary lifestyle is draining you from the inside, but you don’t complain. You know you’re changing and that you’ll be moving forward again soon. You won’t stay still for another month, or maybe another year. You’re a person of movement, drifting through life in steady pique turns, crashing in grace where you shouldn’t. You’ll rise and fall, and you’ll keep moving. You’re the captain and the ocean only bless the ones that stay afloat. You plug your ears, turn the sound up to 11, and for a moment the world makes sense. Here are some of the better songs from last year, volume II.
01. Wisdom Teeth Song — Julie Byrne
02. A Vain Victory — Kissing Party
03. Nara — alt-J
04. Spotless Mind — Jhene Aiko
05. Inside Out — Spoon
06. Mirror Monster — Deerhoof
07. Lighthouse — Grouper
08. Ocean to City — High Highs
09. Crime — Real Estate
10. Keep on Lying — Jessie Ware
11. Shreds — Quality Cinema
12. Breaker 1 — Interpol
Get it here
What’s the last space-faring movie you’ve watched? Sci-fi in recent years continues to be the bore well of pop culture, hiding in plain sight yet goes into great depth of knowledge unlike any other genres. The 60s and 70s brought us Star Wars and Star Trek and took people into journeys millions of miles deep into space with various alien creatures and laser cannons, but somehow it wasn’t until the last couple decades that the journeys went much closer. Armageddon (1998) took the few brave men to face their destiny by conquering the massive Earth-bound meteor, and the impeccable Moon (2009) explored the lunar mining station through the lonely eyes of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell). Gravity (2013) brought the theme even closer to real life by putting Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) in a space mission with current-gen technology that went awry. Beyond those films, Nolan’s Interstellar steps out as a prolific drama set not too far in the future, where humans are just making baby steps towards extraterrestrial colonies. Where we are now regarding extraterrestrial affairs, we’re not even a baby, yet.
If you haven’t watched the movie but don’t care about slight spoilers, read on.
Let’s start by acknowledging the McConaissance. Matthew McConaughey has done so much in recent years to flip his image from a golden-smiling romcom alpha male to a dark, enigmatic personality best embodied in True Detective‘s Rust Cohle (which everybody should have watched by now), and his Cooper persona in Interstellar was done in the same vain, albeit with more fatherly figure than the miserable detective Cohle. Cooper is an atypical protagonist, a man of science, a daring fighter, but above all, a loving father. His affection towards his young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) is something most people can relate to, and it gives a genuine heart to an otherwise cold sci-fi plot — considering that previous Nolan films rarely took the form of a humanist drama, it is a surprisingly good progress in the right direction.
The biggest concern about Nolan’s films is never about their characters, though. I’ve written about his films way more than other directors, but Nolan isn’t even in my top 10 — it’s just that most of the time his movies are a talking point, a fresh take on otherwise tired genres. The Dark Knight trilogy redefined the superhero genre, and Inception introduced people into complex movies that you might only get on the third viewing, and that’s not a bad thing. He created movies that people will talk about for weeks, and through that reaffirms people’s belief that they actually love and care about movies. There are a myriad of Inception infographics that attempt to ease people into their second viewing, a feat that previously only Shane Carruth’s Primer could achieve. (I still don’t get Primer.) Yet, Interstellar is no Inception, and I found it stupid that some people still feel the need to create infographics to explain the plot of Interstellar while it’s as straightforward as it can be. But, as I watched the scene in which Cooper driving away from his family transitioned right into Cooper launching into deep space, I feel the urge to readdress the problem that’s always there in Nolan films: his affinity towards great ideas and ignorance towards passage of time.
The basic concept to grasp on Interstellar is that humanity is in dire need of a new home, and a hope shimmers in the form of a wormhole that reveals a few potentially habitable planets within reach. We send a few astronauts, and one of them accidentally got caught inside the black hole, revealing that it is actually future humans that created the wormhole and this astronaut is also the trigger to his past self to join the mission. Christopher and Jonathan Nolan seem to be fixated at realizing these ideas, forgetting the truckload of plot details that came in the way of reaching that goal: why not try Mars first? Why don’t they just send the highly intelligent robots first? Why did Cooper need a very basic explanation of a wormhole only when it’s right in front of his face? Why don’t they realize that the one-hour-is-seven-years planet’s data is only a few hours old before landing on it? I won’t question the science of the film as I’m really, really not good at physics, but physics aside, the plot itself is just too tempting to not be bombarded with questions. (PopWatch summed many of my curiosities.) The film tries to shove too many themes inside the already-packed 169 minutes running time, creating unnecessary scenes such as the Topher Grace character hurrying Murph to get out of the house in a faked out sense of urgency. Interstellar aspires to achieve a sense of grandeur, but neglected to jump into the details that carry the story.
The aforementioned trait of neglect is best expressed in the film’s tendency to forgo the sense of duration. I’m not buying that NASA hired Cooper to be their leading astronaut just one day after he left his family behind, showing that the film ignores the need of detail for the urge to jump right into action. I don’t buy it either when Murph jumped with joy after figuring out the magic gravity equation like it’s the be-all-end-all solution of humanity’s problem without showing further research. Presenting an entirely new setting for the audience to grasp in sci-fi movies is a matter of do or don’t: you either dive right into the setting and let the film run in a balanced pace without letting extended duration of the film happen offscreen (i.e. District 9) or you try to explain everything and split the story into several films (i.e. the Star Wars franchise). For a film toying around with time, letting too many things run offscreen for an extended period of time is not really a good idea.
All of these nitpicking about the film doesn’t mean it wasn’t without a silver lining. In fact, I wrote this because Interstellar goes beyond simply interesting and lingers around in your head longer than its running time — if I can still remember a film after a few days, then it’s interesting enough to write about. Movies like Star Trek suggest that space travel is a trivial thing, something as simple as “beam me up, Scotty” to the spaceship a couple thousand miles away from us. Interstellar reminded us that our current technology is still far away from human interplanetary travel (cryogenic chamber? Nope. AI robots with dark sense of humor that also happen to be incredibly agile AND won’t kill us all at the end? Also nope) and even if we make it, it’s not going to be a smooth ride. But, the wonder of space itself is that it presents us with infinite possibilities, and sci-fi at its core is an exploration of humanity’s capabilities to venture beyond the limits. Interstellar familiarize many people with habitable planets, wormholes (the “sphere portal” depiction is my favorite scene of the film), black holes, time dilation, even it daringly imagines what happens inside a singularity, one of science’s biggest mysteries that we haven’t been able to solve. But more importantly, it gives us hope that one day, not too far in the future, we will see one of our own kind bravely launch into the dark, limitless space and discover the next stop for our civilization.
Runtime: 169 min.
Release date: October 26, 2014
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Mackenzie Fox, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Matt Damon
Company: Paramount Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures
Riding any kind of public transportation in Jakarta has been more interesting now than in the past decade. Even in the most filth-ridden metro minis, you will find a couple of worn-out office workers brandishing their shiny tablets without the slightest care in the world, sharing their day on Path or tweeting to celebrities. Updating social media accounts and jumping into the hottest hashtags of the day seems to be the norm these days. It is undeniable that our generation is consuming more information than ever. It created a new generation of “readers” – those whose daily reads solely consist of social media updates (and most likely brief news articles). Nonetheless, being informed is still better than not knowing, and this phenomenon can be considered a side effect of everything good the internet has brought to us – globalized business, accelerated research, instant reporting of news. This abundance of information is a typical trait of the 21st century lifestyle, a feat never before seen in any point of history before us. Is the overflow of information always a good thing, and where we should draw the line?
The advent of the internet is undoubtedly one of the biggest technological breakthrough in the last few hundred years. The biggest power of the internet, unlike other breakthroughs in communication technology that precedes it, lies in enabling great flexibility in delivering information to the recipients. Telephone is limited to voice calls but you can video call, send IMs, and email a mailing list with a single internet connection. The many forms of communication – voice, text, video, even tactile response – have been generalized into ‘information’. As long as you have information, the internet will find a way to convey and deliver it to another person or even everyone on the planet with a connection. As a result, many other breakthroughs arose thanks to the internet’s collaborative nature, to the point where we can view the live photos of the surface of Mars from the comfort of our bedroom. The constantly flowing information isn’t always a winning formula for humanity, though: humans are social creatures, and most of the information we consume are pointless chatters, or otherwise Facebook won’t be the second most visited site on the planet after Google (which in itself symbolize the triumph of curiosity over gossiping, or maybe Google is just that good at their game).
The older generation’s grumbling about their kids chatting on Facebook all the time is not without basis. Facebook’s statistics are indeed a staggering accomplishment from the point of business: every day, there are an average of 4.75 billion contents being shared, and 10 billion messages sent to each other, out of 1.23 billion monthly active users. Out of those contents, four of the top five most shared sites on Facebook on September 2014 are news sites (or roughly qualified as such): Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Fox News and NBC News. These sites stood out not because their sites made the most reliable, up-to-the-second news more than any other. Most of the time, the sites applied what is known as “clickbait titles” to their headlines – titles that intrigue people to click them, no matter how inane the news actually is. Titles like “Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis Reveals Baby’s Name…” or “Drake Just Got an Emoji Tattoo and You’ll Never Guess Which One” are certainly demanding their viewers to be clicked, while the actual article can have only one sentence for all they care. Clickbait articles have become such an issue that many people try to take it from many angles, from the Twitter account @SavedYouAClick that answers clickbait titles so you don’t have to click them (its creator said he hates how “the reader is always being manipulated”), to the parody site ClickHole.com that takes pointless articles to a whole new level (one of their article is titled “7 People Who’ve Made Out With Your Sister”, for real). The backlash against clickbait has been so big that even Facebook rolled out updates to reduce the number of click-demanding titles with little to no actual content. Like it or not, these sites produce tons of money by exploiting the curiosity of people, and they’re here to stay.
These clickbait sites are making worse a problem that’s already bad enough, namely the shortening of our attention span. A way higher volume of content are meant to be consumed in the same 24-hour day to remain relevant, pushing us to be highly selective on what to read, and not to spend too much time on one item. People are urged to read only what matters – or what seems to matter. Reading as a daily activity is reduced into bullet point gathering, list skimming, and note taking. Nicholas Carr, an American author, revealed that internet use leads to alteration or “rewiring” in brain activities with as little as 5 hours of browsing, resulting in shallow thinking that reduces comprehension and creativity (although it also strengthen brain functions in fast-paced problem solving). One study in 2008 even suggested that our attention span had dwindled to a mere 5 minutes from 12 minutes a decade before. This change in behavior took a toll in a more global level: the print industry.
Novels, print magazines, and newspapers have been in the frontline of print industry for centuries. This is not the case anymore in the 21st century, as digital publications are flourishing and print publications are forced to adapt to avoid being deserted by their once-loyal readers. Newspapers like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have implemented online subscription to complement their print edition and magazines like Newsweek have even moved entirely digital, ending the print edition after 80 years with a large hashtag titled #lastprintissue (although they decided to relaunch the print edition a few months later after being bought out by IBT Media). Due to negative growth of readership, advertisers are deserting print media, thus destroying profitability for those who can’t adapt. Some considered this phenomenon as the end of quality journalism, because the creation of a good journalistic piece takes time and needs to be written in length with great detail, which is something entirely missing from the modern culture of content consuming.
Fiction publishing is largely a different matter, though, since it is not dependent on advertising revenue, yet authors and publishers are still fighting a huge disadvantage: people simply can’t read hundreds of pages anymore. The avid book lovers are still here, but pulling the new generation into the vortex of literature reading has been proven difficult. Sales of printed books in the United Kingdom fell 9.8% in 2013, as well as anywhere else in the world. Fortunately, there’s a way out for the book industry in the form of e-books. Dedicated e-book readers like Nook and Kindle are spreading like wildfire, and sales of e-books have been constantly on the rise, creating a new generation of readers. However, the side effect of shortened attention span still persists: people are demanding the continuity of their favorite novels in a much steadier pace, resulting in book sequels released only months after the original, as seen in James VanderMeer’s “Annihilation” trilogy amidst other titles. The international hit “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy was even released in under a month, not letting readers catch their breath.
The culture of reading is one of the most basic method of sharing information, and like many times before now, the whole culture of reading and writing is adapting to the new medium with various results. The aforementioned e-book readers have made a new culture of reading electronic books that isn’t meant to replace print books but to complement them, as shown with the rise of print books sales in the first half of 2014. After all, the whole point is conveying story in textual form, no matter where you read it. Journalism also fights back through online subscriptions, and those who prevails are the ones that incorporate multimedia elements into their online version, such as the British-based Top Gear, with videos and interactive charts accompanying pieces about the culture or the economy.
Turns out, the whole slew of new readers are not just clickbait-content consumer; many of them outgrew the insatiable desire to click and demand quality in their reading list. There has been the rise of websites specialized in creating (or curating) long-form articles such as Aeon Magazine and Longreads, which came from the rising demand of people who are missing in-depth writings that used to be severely lacking in the online space. This kind of long-form journalism is back on the rise along with a new generation of print magazines, such as film magazine Little White Lies or lifestyle magazine Kinfolk that emphasize visual design and minimalistic photography that are better enjoyed on printed pages. Once more, the culture gives way to technology by embracing it without having to die out. As more and more clickbait consumers educate themselves and search for better content, the future of reading doesn’t look too bleak – instead, exciting in-depth topics can now be covered in greater, more attractive detail than ever before thanks to technology.
This essay was originally written for a writing contest selection process.
If I had a one-way ticket to any country that I could give to anyone on the streets of Jakarta, I’m pretty sure there will be a few that would throw punches at each other to get it. Who wouldn’t take the chance to escape the insufferable traffic of the Big Durian? Everybody loves to hate Jakarta. Those who don’t are either never have lived anywhere else or blessed with an immeasurable amount of optimism. Lucky Kuswandi’s Selamat Pagi, Malam (In the Absence of the Sun) understands this very well, and through the lives of three women within a night, Jakartans and non-Jakartans alike can pick one of them to relate themselves to: Ci Surya or Mrs. Surya (Dayu Wijanto) ventured into the dark side of the city after finding the number of the mistress of her recently deceased husband; Gia (Adinia Wirasti) just got back from years in New York to find her ‘friend’ Naomi (Marissa Anita) isn’t what she used to be; and Indri (Ina Panggabean) found herself meeting up with a mysterious man after sexting with him on her secondhand smartphone. The anthology formula is nothing new in the Indonesian movie scene, and confining the stories within the boundaries of Jakarta was already the recipe of Salman Aristo’s Jakarta Maghrib (2010). Fortunately, Selamat Pagi, Malam decides to embrace the city’s social issues instead of pushing the urban-romanticizing as a main course.
Young people religiously playing with their iPhones and Galaxy Tabs in between the rusty windows and cramped leg room of Metro Mini (small buses) is not an uncommon sight if you use public transport daily — something that is also common in many countries, yet the stark difference between their ultramodern gadgets and the filthy seats they sit in may be unique to the city only. Indri, a lowly staff from a flashy local gym, is an example of this, as her enamoring new (secondhand) smartphone contained a little hope of higher life, in the form of a BBM contact with a six-pack abs as the display picture. Masking her inadequacy with empty shopping bags before meeting up with said contact in a fancy restaurant is just one way the film pointed us the not-necessarily-hypocritical contrast of both end of the spectrum of life in Jakarta, with the other end being the early thirtysomething Gia, a former New Yorker, massively baffled as she dined with her old mate Naomi and her socialite friends where everyone is fixated to their smartphones and taking obligatory selfies in the very same restaurant. This is a common jab at Indonesians and Jakartans in general: Creating a ‘highlight reel’ of their life out of photos and status updates while making little interaction to the world outside their social media. Lucky Kuswandi chose to take the blatant way to express it, though, since Gia felt the need to repeat every sentiment verbally even after a completely in-your-face scene mocking the socialites’ social media syndrome. At times, the message is as subtle as a repeated hammer to the face, though the performance of Adinia Wirasti and Marissa Anita is easily the best chemistry on the screen — surprisingly so, because Marissa Anita is a well-known newscaster with no prior acting experience.
On the other hand, the two stories are also intertwined with the life of Ci Surya, and her every scene is where the film took a detour. Dayu Wijanto was a perfect fit to embody the character of a middle-aged lady trying to justify her existence through drugs and sex, but apparently her part adds very little to the film, except for being a notable performance piece. The supposed interaction between her and the mistress Sofia (Dira Sugandi) left a lot to be desired. The only saving grace was Sofia’s enchanting singing scene, and the rest was brutally cut by the hand of the censorship, including the explicit scenes between Indri and her newfound darling Faisal (Trisa Triandesa, definitely a showstealer). It seems ironic that an institution could take away so much from a very honest depiction of life in Jakarta after dark, but the fact that this film survives the censorship alone is good enough for us now.
Selamat Pagi, Malam is as much a very humane drama as it is a social commentary. Naomi insisted on Jakarta’s near-nil walkability until Gia persuaded her to take a walk, and suddenly the home-car-mall-home capsule living sounds like a dystopian delusion spread by the paranoid upper class of the city (and it is, believe me, some people are just that sheltered). Indri wondered what a ‘Chicken Soft Roll’ is until the waiter told her it is basically the street food lumpia made more western. All the while, Ci Surya is battling her inner demon and eventually lost (or won), Gia and Naomi reminisce their old life in the States while brushing with the very prevalent undertones of their past romantic relationship (“There’s no place for us here”), and both are proof that Lucky Kuswandi is more than able to amalgamate the multiple layers into one coherent story. If anything, the one aspect that bothers me the most is how the movie is almost another cinematical victim of Indonesian sentimentality through the obligatory shots of Monas, food hawkers, and malls, backed with sugary slow guitar. The film probably won’t last long in theaters, though, and they lightheartedly took a jab at it, so if you’re reading this before the end of June, do yourself a favor and watch it at the nearest theater to support the filmmakers. If it’s already gone, curse the cinema network and pray that they will release a DVD edition later. With 8 (eight!) years in the making, Selamat Pagi, Malam is definitely worth your money, and everyone involved in it has made a right step towards a better Indonesian cinema.
Selamat Pagi, Malam (In the Absence of the Sun)
Runtime: 92 min.
Release date: June 19 2014
Director: Lucky Kuswandi
Writer: Lucky Kuswandi
Cast: Adinia Wirasti, Marissa Anita, Ina Panggabean, Dayu Wijanto, Trisa Triandesa, Dira Sugandi, Aming
Company: PT Kepompong Gendut
You are staring at your screen right now, perhaps, when you are supposedly doing something else of higher importance. But it’s justifiable. You’ve had a long week and need just a moment to catch some air. You could make a cup of coffee but beside you now is a cup of Darjeeling because you need to calm your nerves instead of amping them up. It’s okay. The comfort of your bed awaits. Your eyes will probably start a drowsy revolution to avoid staying up for another match of World Cup tonight. It’s no big deal, everyone else is most likely half conscious as well right now. Until you realize they really aren’t. They’re off doing something better like sleeping or watching movies or having some adventure on the other side of the globe… all the while you’re stuck staring at your screen pandering the worth of your existence. No worries, dear. Give up to your lack of energy. Rest your head and close your eyes. Listen to some better songs from the first half of 2014.
01. Disappearing — The War on Drugs
02. America — Fear of Men
03. Hazey — Glass Animals
04. Parade — The Antlers
05. Whispers from the Ether — Kognitif
06. Joey — Honeyblood
07. Gold — Chet Faker
08. Glowing Cityscape — Manon Meurt
09. Sick Talk — Wye Oak
10. Treat Her Better — Mac DeMarco
11. I Know — Flamingo
12. Coral and Gold — The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
13. Gone Wrong — Plastic Flowers
Edit: I forgot my favorite track from Plastic Flowers, now added as the 13th track, included on the download.
Get it here password: kevinadityadotcom
tertidur di sudut,
udara di antara kita
tidak pernah menjamah luka.
dan aku membuka
“I met Aunt Anna in my dream last night.” Nair mentioned this as if she were ordering a Venti, soft yet resolute, assuring I actually heard what she had just said. I took a gaze at her, she was gazing at the dead traffic outside. The windshield blurred slightly as I activated the wiper, and the soft wiping rhythm helped me regain my inner composure. “Aunt Anna? What did you two do in the dream?” I fixated my stare to the road, restraining my gesture to avoid giving any hint of reaction. “She took me to the museum. You know, the one I used to visit when we were little. It wasn’t anything unusual. Sometimes she grabbed my hand as we cruise through one sculpture to another, but she never bothered to blabber out how this painting looks like spilled milk or how the one on the corner is just a bunch of stupid wires, unlike what she usually do. She stayed still, a few seconds on one, a solid five minutes on another. She’s almost like communicating with them, sometimes moving her lips without muttering any words. Then she stopped at a painting.”
I noticed she took a quick look at me. Her mouth was half agape, seeming hesitant to finish the cliffhanger.
“And… she didn’t actually do anything different. Only this time, her hand reached out to touch the painting. Very slowly. I don’t think she even actually touched it, but maybe the tip of her finger managed to brush a little. A very tender one. It’s almost like she is touching fire.”
“What painting was it? And what happened afterwards?”
“I think it’s a Whistler or Grimshaw, I’m not sure. I can only stare at her beautiful figure. Looks like an oceanic Nocturne though.” I then remembered how Nair adored her dearly Aunt Anna so much, how her eyes shone every time she came by. She’s a beaut, without a doubt. Many different men have come and go, but nobody could win her heart. She was always flying from town to town, then country to country, obsessed to climb up the vicious ladder on that multinational food company. But she always had time for her beloved niece Nair, probably as a replacement for a daughter she never could have. Or, perhaps she could, if only the ferry she was on didn’t decide to go to the bottom of the sea instead, fifteen years ago. She was 31. And so is Nair right now.
“So… she touched a painting? That’s all?”
“No. She told me to touch it, too. You’re not supposed to touch them, you know. But I touched it anyway. And that very instant, we weren’t there anymore. We were in the… sea. I mean, we were on the sea. I walked on water.”
“A seagull flew by and landed on her hand. (I don’t know if this is possible.) She asked me if I wanted to go back, the bird will take me back. Otherwise I should follow her.”
I stopped paying attention to the traffic. This sounded like stories on pulp fictions. “You don’t think…”
“Yeah, I know. I wasn’t feeling afraid. I wasn’t feeling anything. I only knew that I wanted to follow her to the end of the world. Looking at her graceful back was enough for me — she had a wavy black hair. But the seagull seemed eager to fly off of her arm.”
“So you took the bird and it turned into a huge magical dragon to carry you home.”
“No. I followed her.”
“You w- okay… so it didn’t end there. Where did you two go?”
“To the bottom of the sea.”
“What. Haha, that isn’t funny, Nair. I know you really miss her that m-
“I’m not joking. The darkness wraps around you, and it is cold, but also very endearing, because I’m holding her hand and she grabs mine tight.” Her eyes were dead serious as she uttered those words, but she wasn’t looking at me. Suddenly she pointed her finger as if she had a grim idea, or a punchline to an otherwise dark prank.
Before I could say anything, my phone rang. And it answered itself before I even pressed the virtual green button. A murky voice was on the other end. “Hello? Hello, Jim?” I can’t believe Nair’s father dared to call me, a man who I finally had the courage to smack hard when I was 20, when he beat Nair with a wooden stick like he always do, this time right in front of my eyes. Thankfully my big bearlike posture was more than enough to make sure he wouldn’t bother her anymore.
“I-I’m sorry to have to call you, but have you seen Nair? I couldn’t-
“Didn’t you promise not to contact her again?”
“Yes, I did, but she occasionally contacted me, and this time I haven’t heard from her for-
“Cut it. Nair is here with me. You can’t ask her for money anymore. She won’t bother to hear from you anyway.
The passenger seat was empty. It was still warm. The doors were still locked. I slammed the brakes and pulled over,
and only then I noticed the slight scent of the sea, conveying the inclemency of the hundred thousand leagues where
she belongs now.
For those who watched the violence-fest that is The Raid back in 2011, the Gareth Evans-led action flick was a not-so-gentle reminder that Indonesian movies can fare much better in the right hands. It was indeed catered to a specific audience and not exactly a Sunday family treat, but it was a boom anyway. Everybody watched it and left thoroughly impressed — regardless of whether they actually enjoyed the bloodbath or not. In this spirit, Evans returns with a sequel that once again reminds us that we can actually watch quality entertainment with Indonesian faces on a big screen.
Now, I’m gonna spare you some story spoiling: Rama (Iko Uwais) returns to infiltrate the Jakarta crime syndicate led by Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) by befriending his son Uco (Arifin Putra), while eyeing the up-and-rising gangster Bejo (Alex Abbad) who plans on taking over Jakarta from Bangun and the Japanese gang led by Goto (Ken’ichi Endo). That’s about as concise as you can get to know the story without ruining the fun. The story isn’t caged within an old building like its predecessor, and it’s the best part of the whole package: instead of repeating the old formula, Evans takes pieces from Hong Kong crime thrillers like Hard Boiled and Infernal Affairs and made it distinctively Indonesian (or, probably, Jakartan). Scenes between Uco seeking affirmation from his father to run the business are genuinely touching and tense, thanks to the immersive talent of Arifin Putra transforming his character from a spoiled brat to a shotgun-toting menace as the film goes. He is a proof that acting in FTVs and sinetrons doesn’t necessarily corrupt your capabilities as an actor, and that we’ve got a ready stock of actors and actresses ready to up their ante from cheesy TV dramas.
One noticeable comment from the audience is how the roads were so empty to provide a comfortably crazy car chase scene, notably the SCBD and Blok M areas. Or how a murder rampage could happen in a train usually packed with people at weekdays. Of course, it’s tolerable and it should be, because it’s not Jakarta, it’s fictionalized Jakarta. Vehicular manslaughter between rival crime syndicates don’t happen daily either in Los Angeles, but people are already so used to it thanks to numerous Hollywood action blockbusters. In that case, you better get ready, because Jakarta and maybe even Medan, Balikpapan or Bandung will be witnesses to epic car chases in future movies (crossing fingers). Who knows? If anything, the weakest link of the whole package is the two-dimensional characterization of Rama, who seems to be nothing more than a pawn in the huge game of killing — that somehow gets the closure through the usual blood spillage, because he’s still the biggest face in the movie poster.
Oh, and the snow scene. It’s not much of a plothole. There is nothing better to demonstrate the visionary ideas of Gareth Evans than the dramatic killing under the falling snow in front of noodle carts that boggles the thousand minds of the audience: 99.999% of Indonesians (except those that have been to Mt. Jaya in the eastern end of the country) have never experienced snow anywhere within the borders of Indonesia. Snow is an alien thing because it’s a goddamn tropical country. However, I didn’t believe the scene was included without reason, and fortunately at the screening I was on, Mr. Evans himself was present for a little Q&A session. According to the man himself, (a bit paraphrasing here) he intended to create an allusion that Bejo’s presence in various scenes is associated with temperature drops. It’s also the reason why Uco’s breath was visible when he took a phonecall from Bejo, as if it were freezing in the karaoke. But then he said beforehand that it was the ‘bullshit’ version and the real version is simply because blood just looks fucking good on snow, so there’s that. Can’t argue with that, Gareth. I’d say it’s more of a metaphorical choice, demonstrating the overwhelming presence of the rising gangster in town that it even created an impossible situation that anyone haven’t ever encountered before in Jakarta.
That kind of potentially fourth-wall-breaking anomaly is also ultimately a show of transcendence of The Raid 2: Berandal, from movie as an art form, into excessive violence, into an art form again. The fight scenes are almost poetic, like the ones with Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man (never thought Julie Estelle could break off her typecast), and especially the last true-to-form silat battle with a gamelan ambient in the background. The movie as a whole is a testament that Gareth Evans is a well-versed filmmaker that incorporates influence from many other auteurs before him, something that many Indonesian filmmakers could learn from. The train fight scene (and other Hammer Girl scenes) will evoke memories of Park Chan-wook’s legendary Oldboy, and strong use of wallpaper patterns is reminiscent of A Tale of Two Sisters (Kim Ji-woon) and Lady Vengeance (Chan-wook). Even the familial clash takes a bit from Godfather as many other gangster movies that follow. Excessive as it is, this action movie staple is already a memorable piece of Indonesian movie history, and hopefully nudges a right direction in the future of Indonesian cinema.
When was the last time you watched a movie that feels like an extensive music video? Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive stretches the definition of “stylish” several ways, most visibly through the set-up: rooms full of recording equipment in the dark, brooding house of Adam (Tom Hiddleston) that seemingly lies in bumfuck nowhere. Adapting the vintage look of rock stars two decades past, Adam actually delves more into post-rock sound with e-bows and ambient touch — definitely the current accepted style of the sonically cool. It’s weird to notice the modernity of Adam, though, since he is really a centuries-old vampire. They wouldn’t let go of this fact, particularly through his lover Eve (Tilda Swinton), who would bother Adam every 2 seconds with questions like how was your summer with Shelley and Byron several decades ago? Seems like the only people worth remembering for vampires are those drowning in fame, and literary classics. Yet, in another word, it’s probably exactly what you will do when you are several hundred years old with nothing better to do than avoiding sunlight and sipping blood from fancy cups every other day. A slice-of-life crossed with the vampire genre. A stylishly depressing journey through the literally dark Detroit, since they are only active at night. Only Lovers Left Alive is an arthouse-spirited counterpart to the Hollywood action flicks — a story that acknowledges its aridity and chooses to jazz up the style instead.