Cannes Notices Indonesian Film Resurgence by Maggie Lee, 21/05/2017, Variety
Something invigorating and full-bodied is brewing in Indonesia, and it’s not a cup of mocha java. It’s a cinematic resurgence, the biggest since the early 2000s, when Rudy Soedjarwo’s 2002 teen romance Apa ada dengan cinta? (What’s With Love?) rocked the Southeast Asia market while in the same year Riri Riza’s Eliana Eliana stunned the festival circuit with femme-centric social realism.
In September 2016, Warkop DKI Reborn: Jangkrik Boss Part 1, a reboot of a police slapstick comedy by 1980s comic trio Dono, Kasino and Indro (DKI), became the most-viewed Indonesian film in history, with 6.8 million tickets sold. For the first time, the top 10 domestic films enjoyed more than 1 million admissions, with horror Danur taking the top spot in 2017. According to Korean industry giant CJ CGV, exhibition of local films at its theatrical chain in Indonesia rose from 5% to 23% last year.
The arthouse scene is also flourishing, with second-generation directors Edwin, Joko Anwar, Lucky Kuswandi and Teddy Soeriaatmadja turning up at top festivals alongside relative newcomers including Eddie Cahyono (Siti) and Yosep Anggi Noen (Solo Solitude). In fact, there is talk of a new wave, or neo-neorealism, that explores gritty contemporary subjects about politics or gender with stylized, poetic film language.
A new height has been scored by the selection of Marlina, the Murderer in Four Acts in this year’s Directors’ Fortnight, the third Indonesian feature to bow in Cannes. It is also the third feature by Mouly Surya, whose sophomore feature, What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love, premiered at Sundance 2013.
Australia-educated Surya, whose auteur influences are Stanley Kubrick, Michael Haneke and Abbas Kiarostami, cites Garin Nugroho’s Of Love and Eggs and Sjumandjaja’s biopic of women’s rights champion R.A. Kartini as her entry point to national cinema. It was Nugroho, the country’s most distinguished filmmaker, who proposed her to direct Marlina, based on a treatment developed from his visit to Sumba Island, an isolated, arid territory that resembles Texas.
Taking cues from Japanese samurai and Chinese martial arts that fused Western elements, she refashioned the Italo-American genre into a vehicle to examine male violence and patriarchal dominance in Southeast Asian backwaters such as Sumba, while highlighting the indigenous women’s unique air of mystery, sensuality and reliance. The women in Surya’s films bleed in key moments and there will be blood in Marlina, too.
“In my debut Fiksi [written by Joko Anwar], the heroine lost her virginity; in my second film, the blind protagonist had her first period,” Surya says. “Marlina doesn’t spill her own blood, but that of others, symbolizing the strength of women from Sumba. My female characters have grown up. Marlina is a full-grown woman, a widow who finds strength in grief.”