Note: The post contains heavy spoilers.

As I finished The Wire for the second time, I felt compelled to visit Kavanaugh’s, drink a pint, and give an elegy to it. At that time, The Wire already feels like an old friend to me, like a kin. Maybe I’d take a turn between Riggs and Calhoun, and greet residents by their first names. I planned to visit a corner afterwards and lurk to watch the lives of Baltimore residents unravel.

I’m so gonna miss The Wire.


Created by David SimonThe Wire had its good run for five seasons spanning from 2002 to 2008. The Wire, said Simon in Chaddha & Wilson, is set in a modern America city shaped by economic restructuring and fundamental demographic change that led to widespread job loss and the depopulation of inner-city neighborhoods.

Watching The Wire means getting acquainted with various systems inside Baltimore. In season one, we meet Baltimore Police Department and drug trade organisations. Season two is about stevedores working at a harbour. City Hall and politicians appear in season three. My personal favourite is the story about Boys of Summer and educational institutions in season four. In the last season, we delve further into the lives of The Baltimore Sun journalists.

By depicting the systems in Baltimore in detail, The Wire is a solid, rich, and humane story about Baltimore and its residents. Honestly, one could write ten journals dissecting it, and it’d still not be enough. Nevertheless, in this post, I would endeavour to present three common themes appearing in The Wire, which are systemic failure of a city, determinism as its philosophical stance, and ambiguous moral compass of its characters.


Systemic Failure of a City

“I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It’s all in the game, though, right?” – Omar

The Wire delivers critics towards systems, from police department, drug trade organisation, labour union, city hall, school, and media. I gathered that from its perspectives, there are two critics about said system: 1) that it prefers conservatism and punishes those who disobey, 2) that there is an interconnectedness of systemic urban inequality, from high level politicians to street level drug dealers, that breeds structures.

First, the system permeates deeply that it punishes those who disobey. The system is designed to favour the careerists and those who are willing to “carry the water” for the bosses and sacrifice people who are actually good at doing their jobs. Throughout the series, we witness that resistance against the system is met with hard punishment in the end. Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) who acts as a Chief Operating Officer at Avon Barksdale drug organisation feels that current business uses too much violence. He insists that drug should be treated like every other business, with which Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) disagrees. In the end, Barksdale doesn’t even bat an eye when giving Bell to Brother Mouzone and Omar Little to be killed. Bell, with his alternative way of seeing the business trend, is seen as a direct threat to the organisation. He is condemned to death as his punishment.

Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), a cop who works at the Homicide Division of BPD, in season five doctors a serial killer case as a way to fund an investigation against Marlo Stanfield drug organisation. The investigation was stopped due to City Hall cutting BPD’s budget to the bone as a way to direct money to fund education institutions. McNulty, who has been hated by the bosses since the very first episode, rebels against the decision. He doesn’t care about politics and City Hall problems; he only wants to do real police work. As such, he navigates his way around the policy to achieve an end. In the end, his bizarre make-believe makes him laid off of police department.

But the system doesn’t only punish rebels. Weirdly enough, those who are straight in the system are also punished. The fate of Preston ‘Bodie’ Broadus (J.D. Williams) is mourned by audience. He has been working with Avon Barksdale drug organisation since he was 13, never stole off a package, and always did what he was told. He arose from being a street dealer to being a lieutenant by being nothing but loyal, yet he still has to be killed by the system. Ironically, just moments before his death, he recalls being a pawn (“them little bitches”) of a chessboard; being sacrificed first in order to protect the King and Queen. The system favours whoever is at the top of the totem pole, and even the fate of a good soldier doesn’t bode well for them.

The second sub-theme about system and structures is parallelism, that the similar structures are shared from high-level politicians to street-level drug dealers. The epigraph at the beginning of this chapter is said by Omar Little (Michael K. Williams), a stick up boy who robs drug dealers for a living. In the second season, when he becomes a witness of a trial, the defense attorney points out to him that his testimony shouldn’t be counted because he feeds off the vulnerable. “I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It’s all in the game, though, right?” says Omar, indicating that the lawyer also takes advantages from the people in needs, just like he.

Omar’s comment illustrates the parallelism nature vertically, between white-collar jobs and that of blue-collar workers, and even criminals. This is also a strong theme demonstrated in The Wire.  The same stat-oriented system that cares about quantity instead of quality ruins both police department and educational institution. Tommy Carcetti’s (Aidan Gillen) ambition to sit in a throne is not inconsequential to the lives of others, and resembles Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector) in that regard, although in very different manners.

The success in demonstrating the working of complex systems patiently is what distinguishes The Wire from other TV shows. Sheehan & Sweeney (2009) argues that The Wire is driven by a socio-historical analysis. This level of complexity and nuance is never seen in a television drama before. I also have to nod to Chaddha & Wilson’s statement that the success is owed to TV as its apparatus; for it is a convenient medium to illustrate this complexity. The nature of academia, for example, impedes the complete portrayal of the working of systems like what is depicted in The Wire.

Determinism at Play

“Deserves got nothin’ to do with it.” – Snoop

I’d argue that from philosophical point of view, The Wire possesses a determinism approach. It shows how an event causes another event, and there’s only so much that an individual of the grand scheme of the universe can do about it. However, this is not to succumb to fatalistic belief. Humans deserve better lives, and Simon has ideas to offer on how to provide that.

What Simon subtly conveys in The Wire is that institutions play a big role in our lives, even more than how we’d like it to be. A mayor’s personal ambition to be the Governor of Maryland forces him to not beg for money for the city’s rotten education system to the incumbent governor, to which the police department’s budget is allocated. What happens inside the City Hall impacts street life through an invisible string.

It’s actually the little things that matter. In an episode in season four, we’re shown Carcetti’s campaign that politicises crime and promises to better the justice department as his goal. At the morning of the election day, an ex-felon-turned-boxing-coach Dennis ‘Cutty’ Wise (Chad Coleman) goes jogging in a morning and gets stopped by a Carcetti supporter. He rejects his pitch, saying that he’s not allowed to vote. The supporter asks if he was a felon, to which Cutty responds “yes.” I was taken aback watching this particular scene. Carcetti’s campaign doesn’t even touch the people who experience firsthand the very thing that Carcetti discusses in his campaign.

In the later part of his incumbency, Carcetti is more concerned about school problems since he is inherited millions of dollars debt on education from the previous mayor. In a similar fashion to how politics excludes ex-felons, the way City Hall decides the treatment towards school ignores the most affected party: students. It’s heartbreaking to see a City Hall meeting scene next to a scene of Boys of Summer (Namond Bryce, Michael Lee, Randy Wagstaff, Duquan Weems) playing innocently while in a process of being toughened up by a system that the world chooses for them. Carcetti and his staff decide that increased scores by eighth graders matters because it helps him in his campaign as the Governor of Maryland. But real life is not about test scores for these children. For Michael (Tristan Mack Wilds) reality is day to day struggle to feed Bug, his younger brother, and his junkie mom. Randy (Maestro Harrell) just needs to be safe as a state witness after losing his foster mother. I tried not to cry while writing about Dukie (Jermaine Crawford) who has no adult in his life to guide him to the rest of the world outside of junkie world. Also, for Namond (Julito McCullum) school is just an obligation he had to pass before going back to the street again and being a lieutenant for a drug organisation.

To add depth to The Wire, despite my characterisation, Carcetti isn’t even an evil man. He was sincere and passionate at the beginning of his campaign, and succumbs to the system later. In the New Yorker, Simon says that postmodern institutions are the indifferent gods, and as a part of those institutions, Carcetti turns indifferent and pragmatic. He’s a quite good politician with a heart and humane flaws, like everybody else.

The epigraph at the beginning of this part is “Deserves got nothin’ to do with it”, uttered by Felicia ‘Snoop’ Pearson (played by an actress of the same name), one of Marlo Stanfield’s organisation core enforcers. I think this rings true to most fates of The Wire characters. Bodie didn’t deserve to die for being a loyal soldier. Namond gets a better life after an ex police major adopts him. Maybe he deserves it, because all children deserve better lives, but doesn’t Randy deserve that too? Don’t get me started on the fate of Duquan Weems, a kid that young doesn’t get to be abandoned by his family and live in a stable while shooting drugs up his vein. Michael works way harder than Namond and bears more responsibility not imaginable for an eighth grader, he deserves better parents too. But Namond lucks out of life by the adoption, and there their paths differ.

Nevertheless, life isn’t all bad and depressing, for there are some exceptional ones who struggle against the system and manage to get on their feet again. Cutty, after going out of the prison, figures out that murder is not his calling anymore and decides to teach street kids boxing instead. Bubbles (Andre Royo) has been struggling since season one to stop his drug addiction and rekindle a lost relationship with his sister again. After multiple setbacks while trying to get off of drugs and being distrusted by his own sister, he finally walks up those stairs from his confinement, joining his sister and his niece in a family dinner together. These small triumphs add a bit of colour of the richness of human experiences in The Wire.

Moral Ambiguity

“A man must have a code.” – Bunk

The Wire is full of interesting characters with depth and multifaceted complexion. Indeed, it is almost impossible to discuss about the characters without taking Omar Little as an example. Omar is nearly a myth. He forewarns his appearance by whistling “The Farmer in the Dell” and is often seen as the Robin Hood of Baltimore by distributing drugs that he robs. Nobody knows where he lives. To add into his depth, he’s an open homosexual while at the same time maintaining traditionally masculine demeanor.

Resisting the system established by drug trade organisations from the inside, Omar operates based on his code so as to not jeopardise his own life. The code includes not killing taxpayers or anyone else outside the game, and only dealing with those involved in the drug trade. A smart move, I’d say, since it makes him unheard of by the police (what kind of drug dealers would report that “someone stole my re-up” to the police?) and maintain his mythical aura.

Jimmy McNulty may be the closest person resembling Omar’s ambiguous moral compass. As most police in the show, he’s so accustomed to death that he barely shows compassion to the victims. In the second season, in the “dead girls in a can” case, it was so heartwarming to see McNulty insist to figure out the name of his first victim, to save her from being piled on along with other Jane Does. In the end, he never does. He says “Fuck it” when he knows he can’t at least ensure her a proper burial. McNulty puts on his nonchalance on his face again.

Nevertheless, nothing beats his conduct in the last season that raises a lot of ethical questions, where he challenges the system that sacrifices the needs of police department for the mayor’s ambition to be a governor by doctoring a serial killer case. Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn) and Bunk (Wendell Pierce) are straight cops and have tried to talk him out of it, but McNulty is just so adamant of his utilitarian approach (“But at least it’s getting us money!”) that he refuses to listen to them. His fate at the end is the consequences of his own code.

A discussion about utilitarianism in The Wire is not enough without discussing Howard ‘Bunny’ Colvin (Robert Wisdom), a police who consistently holds this view throughout the series. In the third season, he creates a fiasco when he attempts to allow drug trade in several designated places. In his defence, it helps reduce violence in other parts of the city which contributes to overall drug-related violence. Fast forward to the fourth season, he’s the one trying to justify student tracking that has been opposed by education experts for a long time. Again, he tries to explain that tracking will ensure students get the education that they particularly need. Both of his utilitarian approaches encounter vehement opposition.

What I’m trying to say is that the codes play a big part on the characters’ persona. A cold-blooded robber and killer, Omar shows respect to those outside the game, still goes to church with his grandma, never says bad words once, and values loyalty above all. Meanwhile, McNulty, who’s supposed to stand by the side of the law, develops his own codes that may betray the justice he so tries to achieve. Colvin’s utilitarianism also invites people to critically examine policies that have been adopted largely by societies. In the end, the characters of The Wire are unpredictable but consistent, which makes it a genius and interesting show to watch.



The story, after all, is about Baltimore. Jameson in his writing, “Realism and Utopia in The Wire” puts this aptly and I’m going to defer to him on this.

Here in The Wire nobody knows that other landscapes, other cities, exist: Baltimore is a complete world in itself; it is not a closed world but merely conveys the conviction that nothing exists outside it. (It is not provincial, no one feels isolated or far from this or that center where things are supposed to be really happening.) To be sure, Annapolis (the state capital) is a reference, since it is where budgetary decisions are made (especially for the police force); Philadelphia is a distant reference, since occasionally gang members have to make a drop-off there; New York City is the place you have to hire killers from, in very special instances where you need someone unfamiliar from the outside.

Various scenes prove this statement. The dealers of the pit drive out to Philly once and were shocked to know that the city has their own radio stations that play different music than Baltimore radio stations. Omar was at danger once and went to New York to protect himself, but shortly enough he went back home to Baltimore since it’s the only place that he knew. Baltimore is the only place they know.

The spirit of depicting Baltimore realistically permeated through the making of the show. The Wire makers hired a lot of Baltimore actresses and actors, even real ex-criminals and police who took them. Not to mention that various story lines in it were adopted from real life events. Felicia Pearson was convicted of a second-degree murder when she was only 14 and was hired as a cold-blooded killer at the show. The late Donnie Andrews was an inspiration of Omar character and starred in a small role himself. Who knew that the Deacon character is played by Melvin Williams, a drug kingpin himself who inspired the character of Avon Barksdale? Adding these awesome characters to the show creates a certain authenticity of The Wire.

I believe it’s gonna be years before we see a TV show as great as The Wire. 



Chaddha, Anmol, and William Julius Wilson. 2011. “‘Way Down in the Hole’: Systemic Urban Inequality and The Wire.” Critical Inquiry 38 (1): 164-188.

Jameson, F. (2010). Realism and utopia in The Wire. Criticism, 52(3), 359-372.

Sheehan, H., & Sweeney, S. (2009). The Wire and the world: narrative and metanarrative. Jump Cut, 51(Spring 2009).

If you’re familiar with feminism body of thought, you may be aware that patriarchy has been as old as humanity and nobody can foresee what a matriarchal society is like. Shulamith Firestone in Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution admitted that she couldn’t imagine a post-patriarchy life. Although literature argued that matriarchy predates patriarchy, Simone de Beauvoir in her phenomenal The Second Sex proved otherwise. “Matriarchy” was just patriarchy in disguise. 

Marleen Gorris through her Oscar-winning “Antonia’s Line” (1995)―or just “Antonia” in its original title―put her rendition of a matriarchal society onto screen. In her version, matriarchy means a life in the farm, where everybody does their own bits of rough work―women and men alike. Everybody knows everybody’s business, but in a good way. There’s no room for individualism and capitalism to thrive.

The opening scene is Antonia (Willeke van Ammelrooy) facing her death. She wakes up, looks at the mirror, and thinks to herself that today is her time to die. “Antonia’s Line” is like a full circle when the film ends with that scene. In between alpha and omega, life happens.

Antonia comes back to the farm where she used to live as a child because her mother is dying. After burying the old, difficult lady, she and her daughter, Danielle (Els Dottermans) choose to stay and take care of the farm. There, Antonia establishes a matriarchal community that is first joined by the family of Farmer Bas (Jan Decleir) who falls in love with her and wants to marry her at first sight. “You’re a widow and my wife is dead,” Bas says. “My sons need a mother.”

“But I don’t need your sons,” replies Antonia nonchalantly. Danielle can’t hold her laugh. But soon after Bas and his sons move into Antonia’s farm, she softens a bit. Once a week, they sleep in an isolated house for their love affair.

It’s impossible to analyse “Antonia’s Line” independent of feminist thought. Marleen Gorris is a lesbian radical feminist, and this fact explains her worldview. In a matriarchal world of her rendition, Danielle who wants to have a baby and not a husband “to get along with it” doesn’t receive rejection from her mother. She takes Danielle to the city, and after meeting with Letta (Wimie Wilhelm)―who says that she loves to get pregnant and give birth―they set up a meeting with Letta’s nephew. Of course, Danielle’s pregnancy is frowned upon in the church, contrasting to the feminist-type of acceptance in Antonia’s household.

Danielle gives birth to Therèse (Veerle van Overloopwho grows up to be a mathematical and music genius. This contrasts with Danielle who is fond of art and skillful of painting and pottery. Later, Therèse’s prodigy raises some concerns since she’s too accelerated for her age. Daily additional tutoring is then arranged; and Danielle finds happiness as she falls in love with Therèse’s teacher, Lara Anderson (Elsie de Brauw).

Therèse is the only person in the family who can relate to Crooked Finger (Mil Seghers), Antonia’s old friend; a nihilist who reads Schopenhauer and Plato to Therèse since she’s very little. He’s the one who would later persuade Therèse not to maintain her pregnancy when she’s a grown up, since for him, being born into life is a curse. That is the only time Therèse doesn’t follow Finger’s advice, and chooses to give birth to Sarah (Thyrza Ravesteijn) instead.

Having an artsy grandmother and a genius mother, Sarah instead is gifted for clairvoyance. She can predict someone else’s death despite being so young. Sarah narrates the last part when her great-grandmother, Antonia, is on her dying bed, surrounded by people who love her, celebrating time.

And life continues still.

I’m a bit thankful by the fact that Chantal Akerman rejected Marleen Gorris’ request to make this film and encouraged Gorris to do it herself instead. Her feminism bleeds throughout the film and Antonia’s matriarchy is indeed a kind of matriarchy I envision. The kind of feminism that truly empowers and liberates. Roger Ebert pointed out that in the beginning at the film, a sign on a wall says “Welcome to our liberators!” I’m content believing that it refers to Antonia and her female descendants to come.

“Antonia” (1995)
Director: Marleen Gorris
Stars: Willeke van Ammelrooy, Jan Decleir, Veerle van Overloop
Country: Netherlands, Belgium, UK, France


Singapore. The small country, nestled in Malacca Strait, neighboured by Indonesia and Malaysia, is a melting pot and seen as the pinnacle of Asian modernity. I served as a living witness attesting to that. During July 5-8 2016 I travelled solo in the Little Red Dot that once was home to me. Here are some immortalised scenes of Singapore through my eyes (and my phone camera):

Ministry of Communications and Information


I didn’t plan to go here originally. I took bus to go to Fort Canning Park, if my memory doesn’t lapse, and I went pass this colourful building. I immediately got out of the bus and took pictures while visiting nearby Clarke Quay. So, yes, you may go to Clarke Quay MRT and will immediately see this building! A perfect spot for some photographing project, methinks.

Pinnacle @ Duxton
See interesting Singapore’s skyline from the tallest public housing project!

2016-07-09 10.38.25 1.jpg

Busy day at the harbour

2016-07-09 10.41.15 1.jpg

Low rises against high rises

The nearest MRT station to this place is Tanjong Pagar, after that, head east from your position as you head out from the MRT station and just follow along the Cantonment Road. When I got there, I had to go to block 1-G to see the booth where you can buy your ticket to go to the 50th floor. The price is $5 and can be paid via your EZ-link card or cash.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple



2016-07-17 05.20.05 1.jpg

The detail

How do you reach this place? The nearest MRT station is Outram Park. I would suggest you go here around lunch time so you might have some lunch at the famous Maxwell Hawker Centre (Tiantian Hainanese Chicken Rice, of course) because the place is just across the road from this temple.

When I went here I didn’t go inside as I was in rush, but you actually can go inside and look around! The temple is active though, I mean, monks and common citizens pray in it as usual, so please be considerate and do not bother them praying.

My eternal favourite: SuperTree Groves at Gardens by the Bay!

2016-07-17 05.19.13 1.jpg


2016-07-17 05.15.38 1.jpg


This is, hands down, my favourite place in Singapore. I went here multiple times during my living in Singapore in 2014 and was on top of my itinerary list when I came this year. You literally can come at any time of the day and will be mesmerised by the SuperTree Groves. Nobody will get bored of it.

The nearest MRT station to this place is Bayfront. Although I previously said that you may come at any time of the day and the trees will still be gorgeous, try coming later at night because at 7.45 and 8.45 p.m. they have light show. When I came, the theme was Retro so they played 60s songs and the SuperTree Groves were lit up syncing to the beat. It was really beautiful.

If you get some extra cash, buy tickets to the two conservatories: Cloud Forests and Flower Dome!


2016-07-09 09.52.15 1.jpg


2016-07-15 08.48.27 1.jpg

Flower Dome in three pictures. Look at em lush flowers!


A must see: The Fall in Cloud Forests!

The price to the 2 conservatories is $28 for each tourist. However, if you’re willing to take some time to do some research online, you’ll find travel agents that offer the tickets at a much lower price! I bought the ticket to 2 conservatories plus a ticket to OCBC skyway for only $25, where normally it would’ve been $36.

Head on to watch light show at Waterfront Promenade nearby, and take a walk on the Helix Bridge to end the night.

2016-07-17 05.14.11 1.jpg

The Helix Bridge


Singapore’s skyline from The Helix Bridge. No edit and no filtering needed since the place is naturally photogenic.

Bored with modern scenes? Take a stroll at Kampong Buangkok, the last remaining ‘kampong’ (village) amidst the concrete jungle that is Singapore.


For those who fancy rough Asian scene.

2016-07-17 05.11.42 1.jpg

Unlikely scene in Singapore. Be considerate, though, as there are real people who live in these houses and would like some privacy.

I stopped at Paya Lebar MRT station and crossed the road to take a bus to reach this place. There were 24 stops. Yes, the place is pretty much secluded and you need to be aware of your location!

Pay Haw Par Villa a visit and get your reality contorted.

2016-07-08 07.05.51 1.jpg



Bizarre vibe of the garden!


My spirit animal.


The face that I make everyday.

Need to burn off that fat from eating too much uncle ice cream? Tighten your calves by jogging at the Southern Ridges.

2016-07-17 05.09.19 1.jpg

The Henderson Waves. Yes, that Henderson Waves.

I was pretty confused on how to reach this place as blogs that I’d read had given me contradicting statements. But here’s how I went there: stop at Telok Blangah MRT, cross the road and take any bus, you stop two stops later. You’re welcome!

Bonus pics: Other interesting scenes


Colour galore at Kerbau Road, Little India.

2016-07-17 05.05.51 1.jpg

You haven’t visited Singapore if you haven’t taken picture of this famous mural at Haji Lane, Bugis.

I went to Rochor Centre, Bugis, to take shelter from the sudden pouring rain that morning. I wasn’t disappointed.

2016-07-14 10.24.52 1.jpg

Another gaily coloured buildings scene.


Where reality is a bit distorted.

If you like my pictures, feel free to follow me on Instagram!

Several tips on travelling to Singapore:

1) Unless you really need to, always take MRT over bus. MRTs always stop at every stop and announce their location so you can make sure you’re not lost. On the other hand, buses won’t stop if nobody stops nor flags the bus so if you’re not familiar with the surroundings of the place you’re heading to, you might skip your stop!
2) Always bring a bottle of water, an umbrella or a hat with you. Singapore is really hot and humid and I’ve never been to a place hotter and more humid than Singapore, and I spend the entirety of my life in Jakarta, Indonesia. Re-applying sunscreen every few hours will make your skin thank you.
3) Singaporeans are a bit loss when it comes to some tourist spots (except some very popular ones, perhaps, like Merlion Park). I asked plenty of local citizens places that I thought was popular (like Pinnacle @ Duxton, Maxwell Food Centre) and none of them knew. It’s better to just purchase a Singaporean SIM card upon your arrival and check your locations online.
4) Toilets don’t have water for you to clean yourself after. They only have tissues, so keeping a bottle of water with you may be important in this case.
5) You have to bring your tray over after eating. In Indonesia if we go to some restaurants we just let our trash there after eating. In Singapore if you go to hawker centre or some restaurants, you have to bring your tray over to some designated places to ease the job of the cleaners. In the hostel where I stayed, we even cleaned our plates after eating breakfast.
6) Eat at hawker centre. Food in Singapore is very expensive and you can save a lot of money by resisting to eat at a restaurant–which may cost you $15 per person per meal–and eat at a hawker centre instead–which will cost you $5 only. I, for one, am not a big fan of Singaporean cuisine and is therefore unable to recommend any place to eat, since in Singapore I ate so that I did not die. However, you can go spend your cash at one of eateries in Tiong Bahru as it is a lively place with a lot of food joints!

Singapore has always been a nice country to me, and I’m really looking forward to visiting it once again in the future. I didn’t manage to pay a visit to several places: MacRitchie Reservoir, Botanic Garden, Holland Village, independent bookstores in Tiong Bahru, top of Esplanade (to watch sunset), Bras Basah… the list is bottomless. Hopefully there’ll be next time to it!

jeanne dielman

Although Chantal Akerman herself refused to reduce her masterpiece to mere ideologies, she had to admit that “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” (1975)–further will be addressed as “Jeanne Dielman”– is one of the most important works in feminist cinema. Dissecting a woman’s life, our shared experience, and studying them under cinematic microscope constitute audacity that only feminists dare to make.

For three hours and twenty minutes we are allowed to follow closely the three days of Jeanne Dielman, a widow with one son, a prostitute by day, and an efficient homemaker (Slant Magazine used this term and I liked it). Feminist film theorists claim that these occupations are women’s position in society which make Jeanne Dielman an embodiment of a second-class citizen, and is therefore easily identifiable to women.

Like dancing to an adagio cadence, Jeanne handles her days mechanically. She wakes up in the morning, makes some coffee and breakfast, cooks dinner in the afternoon, takes a weekly john into her bedroom, and by the time her john’s done, potato is cooked and it’s a perfect time for dinner after her son goes home from school. She’s there, with her elegant gait walking from a room to another room, doing chore after chore with precise timing, starting from turning on the lamp to turning it off when she leaves the room. She and her domestic queendom are inseparable on screen. The use of static camera that we thought had lost was revived in order to display her attachment to her domesticity. Like a conditioned woman, Jeanne identifies herself to her surroundings, never to herself as a human.

We’re made conditioned to Jeanne’s personal success on the first day conquering her domestic world that some minor screw-ups in the second and third days drive us to the edge of our seats. As personal attachment grows between us and Jeanne, we’re worried about the fact that she forgets to close the lid of the vase, and hell, was I frustrated over the overcooked potato that I nearly punched the screen. Little did we realise that the small internal scream invoked when she misses the minutiae of her ritual is the daily life of our mothers, our maids, and our sisters. Her life is a set of habits that need to be checked every day, so when in the end she takes a scissor and stabs her john after finishing with him we’ll be aghast and need time to recover as Jeanne sits alone that evening with blood flowing in her hand.

The same system that habituates her to domesticity also ritualises women to always accommodate men. As if showing her subconsciousness that always prioritises men, patriarchs in her life occupy a significant screen time, from her son to her clients. Meanwhile, two women who seem to have close relationship with her don’t even appear on screen. Her neighbour remains faceless to the end of the film despite interacting with Jeanne daily. Her sister’s festive life is narrated by Jeanne’s monotone voice when she reads her letters. Perhaps it’s too far-fetched to say that Jeanne only highlights male presence, but seeing how her labour goes into pampering her son and satisfying her johns, the importance of men in Jeanne’s life is just self-evident.

After going through several online forums discussing this film, I concluded that men generally find it a dreadful, boring film. I think this is what Akerman wanted to convey. “Jeanne Dielman” pictures women’s lives–which account for half of the population–unapologetically. This is the condition of womanhood girls are socialised into. Is it clean? Did I put too much water in my cooking? What about that spot that I missed while cleaning? Her obsessiveness with tidiness and hygiene isn’t OCD, it’s what we women are expected to be. Men may call it tedious, but women call it our lives.

“Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” (1975).
Director: Chantal Akerman
Stars: Delphine Seyrig, Jan Decorte
Country: Belgium, France


about a woman

The last installment of Teddy Soeriaatmadja’s trilogy closed it sweetly. Being first screened at the Singapore International Film Festival 2014, it barely appeared to the surface. As an advantage, Soeriaatmadja unleashed his idea and creativity onto an uncensored screen.

I first watched the film on February 10, when there was a free screening at Plaza Indonesia. Soeriaatmadja was there, delivering a Q&A session after the screening. Apparently, Soeriaatmadja made a conscious decision to not distribute it to the general public.

Compared to his two previous films, “About a Woman” is not as dramatised as the first two installments. Taking place in only a house, the story revolves around a Woman (Tutie Kirana), a 65 years old widow whose only daughter lives with her own family and has no companion in her old years. Her daily life doesn’t look so stressful–she drinks tea in the morning, exercises a bit, eats lunch, plays with puzzle on the evening, watches TV thereafter, and regularly prays in between–but she maintains her ice cold exterior through her mean words. Soeriaatmadja patiently portrays a lonely woman who refuses to admit that she’s lonely, and as a result, shows what appears to be jealousy when her maid leaves her to take care of her parents.

It all begins when her son-in-law sends his unemployed 18-19 years old nephew, Abi (Rendy Ahmad) to help her out. The Woman’s trust issue causes her tight lip behaviours when dealing with him at first. Over time, these two bond, in an unimaginable way. The Woman feels her sexual desire rekindled once again, and her hand trembles when she starts applying lipstick on her lips after years of being nonchalant about her appearance. She can only see Abi from afar when he exploits his youth.

In the Q&A session after the Plaza Indonesia screening, Soeriaatmadja admits that the theme of the film is his reason to not make the film accessible to general public. The sex scenes–although not that explicit to my standards–will never make it past the Film Censor Institute (LSF). Not to mention the possible controversy as a sure repercussion.

I personally liked it so much that I watched it for the second time in when Sinema Rabu screened it. I regret that less people see this film though, since this is a great picture deserving of attention. Soeriaatmadja’s filmmaking techniques sure have matured since “A Lovely Man” or “Something in the Way.” Here, no more of those cringeworthy cliché dialogues. Even, the dialogues are minimum.

As a result, strong acting of both main characters is at request. Tutie Kirana’s acting is top notch as she manages to represent the ambiguity and human hypocrisy that connect the three films. She becomes a mean old woman who prays regularly yet never displays her religiosity in any way. On the other hand, Rendy Ahmad’s acting still can’t parallel that of Kirana’s. At some points he can become very awkward and flat. Still, the film is Tutie Kirana’s spotlight.

Soeriaatmadja’s refreshing take on an old woman’s sexuality is greatly represented on “About a Woman.” By becoming simpler, mayhaps he expects to convey more emotions for the audience to feel rather than learn from. And he’s right.