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.

 

Stills-SITW-2

Teddy Soeriaatmadja’s 2013 masterpiece entitled “Something in the Way” is often quoted as the local version of Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976), and it is for a reason. In this film, Soeriaatmadja follows the journey of Ahmad (Reza Rahadian), a taxi driver with dull and dim eyes, seeking after adventure to contrast with his boring life. His encounter with Kinar (Ratu Felisha) fortunately sheds some lights on to his routine.

Despite being a devout person who prays five times a day and regularly attends khotbah, Ahmad has his own deadly sin: lust. The first scene of the movie shows him masturbating to some old pictures of women in underwear, and later on when he gets home, the first thing he does is watch counterfeited porn DVDs. Apparently, this is Soeriaatmadja’s favourite text as he also conveyed the similar narrative in his previous film, “Lovely Man.” In Soeriaatmadja’s universe, everyone is grey. No one is good or bad, everybody is the mixture of some shade. Just as Cahaya in “Lovely Man” who is religious yet pregnant outside of marriage, similarly, Ahmad has his own addiction that is frowned upon by society.

These two sides of Ahmad alternate in the movie. The scene portraying him jerking off to some cheap porn DVD is followed by him doing his subuh prayer, consecutively. He attends khotbah at a local mosque by day, and visits the city’s red light district at night. It is where he recognises Kinar (Ratu Felisha), his neighbour who always has trouble with her apartment door. It is a lie to say that he doesn’t lust after her; after all, she’s a beautiful prostituted woman armed with sharp mouth and mean behaviours to protect herself.

And as expected, both romancing each other is inevitable in this scenario. Regretfully, this confusing feeling that only creates dissonance to conservative Ahmad is put into the pinnacle of the story too quickly. They narrate one plot after another in a rather rough manner, and too quick to jump to conclusion. This is especially palpable when they introduce Pinem’s incredible character as Kinar’s greedy pimp briefly, and shortly afterwards, Ahmad is shown to be listening to a khotbah about jihad very carefully. After that, the ending is clear and predictable. Two plus two equals four.

“Something in the Way” is a minimalist film with only three attention-stealing characters with each one’s backgrounds being barely debunked to the audience. This is especially true on Rahadian and Felisha’s characters. Reza Rahadian manages to display the non-interesting part of him that is especially apparent judging from his gaze. This is a refreshing take after various handsome-guy-who-is-a-heartbreaker role he usually takes in movies. Kudos to Ratu Felisha as well for being able to portray a nonchalant prostitute, and being ambiguous about her feelings towards Rahadian’s character. Were it not for the missing links in the script, the two would’ve dug their talent deeper.

In the end, Soeriaatmadja stays with his favourite signature: capturing the rogue corners of Jakarta in between shots. If you have watched “Lovely Man,” this would come as a striking resemblance, in terms of cinematography. With his shaky camera, close-up shots, and rather minimal dialogue, he immerses us into his honesty of what embittered romance in this dismal city ought to look like.

lovely-man

Just as many local indie films, Teddy Soeriaatmadja’s 2011 award-winning picture “Lovely Man” suffered from the same syndrome; critically acclaimed by many film critics abroad, yet is still under the radar nationally. This sixth feature film by Soeriaatmadja got acknowledged at Busan Film Festival (where it premiered), Asian Film Awards, Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival, Osaka Asian Film Festival, and Tiburon International Film Festival. In national circuit, although it also won several trophies at multiple prestigious award shows, its offbeat theme invited controversy from Indonesian conservative groups. A blow to the distribution of the film, it then became inaccessible to larger public.

That’s why I got excited when a friend sent me a poster of Sinema Rabu screening this film last Wednesday. I’m a fan of Indonesian indie cinema, and although I haven’t watched much due to limited information, I consider everything that I’ve watched so far priceless. I immediately went to the venue, though far, and was quite disappointed to see that only eight people, including me, watch the film. The movie, on the other hand, was not a disappointment.

A pious nineteen years old Cahaya (Raihaanun) goes to Jakarta against the wish of her mother with one quest: to meet her father who left her when she was four. Aided with a few bucks and strong will, she takes the cheapest train and asks locals for direction. The first thirty minutes follows Cahaya’s journey in finding her father, and her eyes that dim every time she endures curious and judgmental looks from others.

The story takes its turns when Cahaya finally meets her father, who is far from her expectation. Ipuy (Donny Damara) is a transvestite prostitute at night, and standing next to the veiled Cahaya, he is a contradiction that invites gaze and judgment from others. At first, he refuses to engage with someone from his past. Yet, this eventually subsides as they spend the night together. He softens up, bit by bit, despite some of his mean behaviours most of the time as it acts as his defence mechanism so far.

The trial and error that both father and daughter have to experience in trying to reconnect with each other after fifteen years of absence alternates with dreamy aesthetic of Jakarta’s corners, as if it wishes to distance itself from the current before it resumes living again. Some parts of the dialogue are too preachy and therefore cringe-worthy. Perhaps, that’s what happens when two people who barely interact have to know each other in one night. It all becomes an avalanche of emotions.

Is the attempt successful? It’s hard to tell, since too much things are at stake. The day they meet is coincidentally the day where city thugs hunt Ipuy down, asking for the $2300 he stole from them, the day where Cahaya must witness Ipuy talking to his lover about his sex-change surgery plan, and the day where Ipuy finds out that Cahaya is pregnant. And even though it is implied that they will never meet again, we must admit that nothing has touched us more than a father and a daughter discussing about love at the side of Jakarta’s empty street at 4 in the morning, while awkwardly stitching each other’s wounds.

acomm

The new Joko Anwar’s film is a hype and it is truly deserving of all critical acclaim it receives so far. Directed by Joko Anwar and starred by two rising stars of Indonesian cinema—Tara Basro and Chicco Jerikho—, the film participated in 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and won three awards in Festival Film Indonesia 2015. Quick recall upon Joko Anwar’s previous works suggests that he often experiments with various film genres, and “A Copy of My Mind” is very different from previous films he’s well-known of, such as “Modus Anomali” or “Janji Joni.”

“A Copy of My Mind” is about romance as it is about thrill and drama—a gritty picture that encapsulates life in Jakarta told by those who have to deal with the hostility the city provides. It’s a narrative as well as a montage of packed neighbourhood, muddy traditional markets, and chatty salon workers. It’s honest, vibrant, and nihilist at the same time.

Sari (Tara Basro) is a daily beauty salon worker by day and a pirated DVDs aficionado at night. Being upset of the bad translation of several DVDs that she bought, she complaints to the owner of the DVD store, who forwards her to Alek (Chicco Jerikho) who Google-translates pirated DVDs for a living. It all starts with Alek challenging her to go to his dorm room (in a manner that in real life will constitute a sexual harrassment threat) and accept several DVDs as a form of his apology. As it proceeds, their feelings develop. Their romance blossoms. Kudos to Basro and Jerikho for making the coquetry appear natural; the passion in their love-making, the gaze they throw at each other, the way they move around each other form an eternal dance.

It is during the presidential election in 1998 Indonesia, which means a perfect time for two simple people to get tangled in the intricate web of political giants. Sari never foresaw that her decision to move to a new salon and agree to be assigned as a facial masseuse to a political client would entail to danger. Nor did she consider that Alek would pay for her sin. Here, in the last half of the movie, Joko Anwar reminds the audience that humans are nothing but pawn of a bigger design by ditching the sentimentality he has built in the first half of the movie and lifting the political theme instead. It is done with taste, where the plots are sewn seamlessly. Anwar is particularly remarkable for his meticulousness and in the end, no small detail remains unimportant to insinuate something bigger in the plot advancement. When all emotional build-up subsides and Sari and Alek have to descend to their peril, everything is logical and consistent. Nothing is narrated too fast or too slow.

Although story-wise “A Copy of My Mind” is great (and to me, perhaps one of the best treated scenario in Indonesian cinema), it still has some questions that remain unanswered. First, it fails to deliver why the 1998 context plays such an important role to the film. In the end of the day, I think the story is timeless, meaning the context can still apply to current Indonesian politics without changing a bit of the story. Secondly, if the troublesome video that Sari steals from Mirna’s prison is taken by a spy, it sure is too neat and good of a quality to be taken hastily as is a spy’s job. It could’ve been better had only more rogue footage was shown. Irrespective of some trivial weaknesses, I stand firm that “A Copy of My Mind” is important to the Indonesian cinema.

And as we’re reaching towards the end of the story, Sari ushers us to the edge of her sanity; her romancing Alek on the balcony, while the sun sets in the background, emanates surreality. She goes back to the old salon for work, going on the same daily loop again. Nobody inquires her. She dances to the same rhythm of life as prior to crossing path with Alek and falling for him. Everything is okay.

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