Monday, May 16, 2016


Directed by: Rahung Nasution
Running time: 48 min

For Germans, communism is dead as the last piece of Berlin Wall was torn apart 25 years ago. For the rest of the world, it is just a past. But for us Indonesians, the ghost of communism is alive and well. Yes, you read it just right, alive and well.

Even after 50 years since the so called communist "coup" happened in Indonesia (at least that is what the government is so hard to emphasize), anything related to communism and Marxism still incite fear among the masses. 

There's this "scare" wind blown by irresponsible figures that communism will rise again. Like a vampire which will devour us all. A silly scare for intellectuals but a real one for gullible people.

By this socio political climate, last March a short documentary successfully ruffle some feathers. This unsexy genre for mainstream Indonesian moviegoers take a sensitive issue, the illegal imprisonment for people accused of association with the Indonesian Communist Party at Buru island, East Indonesia. 

The first screening (March 16, 2016) at Goethe Institute got cancelled since the police who was supposed to protect and serve the rights for peaceful gatherings will not give guarantee for the safety of the screening.

The same case happened to screening of The Look of Silence and The Act of Killing in some regions far away from Jakarta. Even ASEAN Literature festival "almost" receive similar fate.

So the screening moved to the office of Human Rights affairs later that night to a packed audience. Three days later, March 19, the screening was made available again but at LBH Jakarta (Public Law attorney's office) during Belok Kiri Festival (Turn Left Festival, also received similar fate, not given protection to gather and discuss peacefully by the police).

The documentary itself is very beautiful. It does not try to take the whole subject, but a personal journey for ex prisoner, Hesrsri Setiawan, a poet formerly a member of Lekra (Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat, people's cultural institution, culturally but not officialy related to Indonesian Communist Party).

Hesrsi nostalgic return to Buru island was met with his fellow inmates, shares stories and hopes to the audience. Although it has some flaws (such as audio inaudible and loose editing), this is a daring but also a beautiful documentary about what it feels as someone who has been imprisoned without fair trial at all. A powerful reminder that such atrocity has happened (and surely shall not happen again) in Indonesia.

Thursday, June 04, 2015


(HBO Documentary Films)

Directed by: Brett Morgen
Running time: 132 minutes

Cobain, the flawed prophet of the 90s everybody adores. His music has become leitmotiv of the 90s, but him as a person is deeply flawed. We all know his heroin addiction and suicidal tendencies. It took almost quarter century to have a decent documentary about Cobain to finally materialize.

This is not your usual documentary filled with boring interviews and archives, this is the most intimate documentary about Kurt Cobain's life. It makes you feel as if you are inside his house. From the cradle and to his end. The mash up of videos and art inspired and from the works of Kurt Cobain is good.

Together with the music, this remind me as Nirvana was at their heights. At that time everybody know Nirvana. Now a generation later, the youth get to know (again) who Cobain is. His drug abuse, his self loathing and suicidal tendencies with stories from people around him gives a better picture on who he really is. The ascent of fame hurts him. The talented but tortured kid of a broken home got his epiphany in punk and music.

The arc of Cobain’s life is drawn:  hypersensitive, talented child of a broken home, who screams his pain into drawings and notebooks. The discovery of punk was like a religious epiphany. This is a time capsule as memento from the 90s generation. Remember it was 25 years ago, not 10 years ago. If you knew Nirvana at their heights, you are old.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Starring:  Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Duration: 119 min

Actors, who are they? Just a bunch of self centered people getting overly paid for being douche bag? Innaritu's Birdman depicts actors in an unusual way, sometimes flattering, sometimes deprecating. Michael Keaton is Riggan Thompson, a has been actor who struggles to keep existing by acting in a Broadway production. He act in a theatrical production seems only suitable for white people viewers in the 1950s.

With many seamless one take shot, Innaritu tells the story of the aging actor as if it is a magical realism novels. We see Riggan during his prime as one superhero called Birdman. We know that Riggan cannot fly but with an amazing trick, the audience will be awed not only by the optical trick, but also by the dialogue.

Technically this film is emotional, intimate and a bittersweet satire on how one person struggle to keep existing in this mad world that keeps changing. Riggan's bantering with his daughter shows that there is a huge generation gap and understanding how the world works.

Unlike Babel and Biutiful, this one is a bit funny and light. One can argue that the one take shot is a gimmick but the story is also good. Keaton himself is good as Riggan Thompson, at certain moments he seemed to be himself, an ex Batman actor who seems to be just another has been in the world of Niki Minaj and Emma Stone.

The meta script is beautiful, somehow it sounded like "problems only East Coast theater actors" only felt. But actually, as an actor or not, we all struggle to keep our existence on earth. Fame and prestige is seducing and one cannot be blamed to keep themselves in the spotlight although they might not be relevant anymore.

Monday, December 22, 2014


Directed by: Ifa Isfansyah
Starring: Christine Hakim, Nicholas Saputra, Reza Rahadian, Eva Celia, Tara Basro, Aria Kusumah, Landung Simatupang, Whani Darmawan, Slamet Rahardjo, Darius Sinathrya, Prisia Nasution
Running Time: 112 minutes

Original title: Pendekar Tongkat Emas

A certain move in the martial arts that can be the ultimate weapon, betrayal, a prime weapon, disciples vs teachers, loyalty and a mysterious stranger posessing a certain skill that can help the protagonist win the battle, those are elements of a good martial art stories. 

Once upon a time, before the fire nation attacked, I mean before the time of social media, martial art stories written on pulp papers are a hit in Indonesia. Kids and adults love those stories that fires up imagination. But those time is long gone.

It was also decades since the last time Indonesian movie scene filled with local martial arts movies. In the 2010 you can count only several Indonesian movies with martial arts in it, and they were mediocre. Most Indonesian movies relies heavily on pre sold ideas such as adapted from popular books. 

So this one, titled The Golden Cane Warrior in English, comes as a fresh of breath air since it is not an adaptation from a popular book. It is, by all means, original. But it also means that the stakes are high, thus this is why Ifa put marquee name in it.

Without explaining where and when this happened, the audience must accept that this is some sort of pseudo past in Indonesia.  Cempaka (Christine Hakim) is the golden cane master. She has four students; Biru (Reza Rahadian), Gerhana (Tara Basro), Dara (Eva Celia), and Angin (Aria Kusumah). Her students were the offsprings of her enemies. When Cempaka decides to give her golden cane, that's when the story got interesting. 

As a film, this one is good. But it also pose a serious problem, most actors here are not martial arts actors/actresses, so they have to train really hard to fight with cane. But in the acting department, they are good. I think it is not a problem at all, although most action happened in close up, I can see that their training really pays off. But in years to come, Indonesia really need several martial arts actors/actresses that can really act. An all in one package.

The pseudo past is good, I don't mind that it does not specify at certain time or area in Indonesia. Some might question why do these people use cane not swords or other weapons, and why does the style looks like a wushu? Why cane? There are no explanation apart than this from of martial arts with cane can defeat other weapons. 

Perhaps this is the personal choice made by the scriptwriters, and perhaps by this they tried to fire up the martial arts genre in Indonesia. But I am a bit pessimistic since not all Indonesian movie producers wants to go through long and arduous process of training and location hunting for just a movie. Most just want to make more with less production cost but this is an example how going the extra mile will get extra credit from the audience.

As for the visuals, I like how the cinematography blend with the story. Some beautiful establishing shots seamed smoothly into the film without trying to show off. Ifa Isfansyah, also a director of Sang Penari, proves that he can tell a simple and beautiful story that can engage common people. If you wonder, the location is in Sumba, East Indonesia. In conclusion, The Golden Cane Warrior is a visual gasm journey with a simple story.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Original Title: Kış Uykusu

Directed by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan. 
Starring: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen, Demet Akbag.
Running time: 196 minutes.

Three-hour-chamber epic that does not makes you yawn at all. Only few directors manages to pull this magic, including Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Winter Sleep is about anything and something that is driven by dialogue and superb acting. An aging actor, Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) who refused to be called as actor but thespian, is a wealthy man in his village. He has a cottage to cater the needs of tourist and a land where the tennats does not see him in a friendly manner.

But his world crumbles as a boy hit his car window with a stone. That event triggers a crack in his family's life. His wife feels as if she has no role thus start a social comittee, the sister felt as if her life is incomplete and Aydin himself realizes that his so called intellectual lifestyle, keeps him away from daily minutiae.

This is laos rich in other themes such as moral ambiguity, social class, ethics,religion and hypocrisy. In one scene Aydin seems irritated by the local imam about some trivial matter (it is of importance to the imam but not to Aydin), but soon the scene changes as Aydin recite one of his articles about religious piety.

Such broad themes can be made simple and personal around long, literate, sometimes funny and bitter conversations. It is clear that all his "intellectual" pursuits from Aydin is nothing more than just a facade to hide Aydin to bear with his real self. The characters reminded you of characters in Ingmar Bergman's movie and the dialogue is meditative just like Russian novels.

Is this for everybody? I don't know but if you want to expand your emotional spectrum, you should try Winter Sleep. Just like Once Upon A Time in Anatolia, this one is rewarding. Don't let the duration turns you down, you will be dazzled by the dialogue and acting.

Friday, November 21, 2014


Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
Running time: 117 minutes

What sort of news would you rather choose? A normal one about something more important like energy crisis or education? Or about Kim Kardashian's ass and Miley Cyrus twerking? It seems that in this economy, nobody values real news minus all the "spice" to increase the rating.

Then comes Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) , a drifter, freeloader, former thief who comes to hijack the American success story. Roams the streets of Los Angeles at night, he finds his true call, being a freelance video journalist. But to get there, he stole a bike to buy a camcorder. Lou lives by the fringe and he seize chances as he sees it.

Recording accidents and crime in night, he hopes to climb the ladder of the media industry by selling his footage to a local TV station where their ratings has slumped. They needed Lou to revamp their rating by broadcasting crime scenes or accidents. But what follows is bitter satire on journalism and job market.

Lou always stare, he rarely blinks as if he needed to capture anything with his eyes. His instinct grows as he realizes that he had the power to record things as it is, or to with hold important things for his own benefit. It comes with a price that will makes the audience thinks that Lou is the sithlord of citizen journalism.

It is dark, cynical and murky. It also reminded me of Ace in the hole (1951) with Kirk Douglas, also put the media industry in a not so romantic point of view. Nightcrawler is a dark comedy, makes you laugh and hiss at the same time. Jake shows that he is an actor worth to watch. After End of Watch and Source Code, his flexibility as an actor has already been proven. This time as Lou, he become the voice of darkness, sithlord of citizen journalism in the face of American dream.

Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry
Running time: 149 minutes

There are two sides of every story and in Gone Girl those sides are explored wildly by David Fincher. Gone Girl is not your typical romantic story but your typical mind fuck story which will leaves you gasping with awe. Fincher is one of my favorite director and by this he manages to keep himself in the game. 

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) finds his home  violated;  his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), missing. With the help of the police Nick tries to find his wife. But as things revealed, the suspicion mounts on Nick. Is he the killer playing poker face? Is he the sociopath? The media circus is frenzy with the way Nick behaves. But this is from David Fincher and he gives more than just whodunit saga. Gone Girl shifts from past and future, also Amy and Nick's side. 

There are two major spoilers for those who haven't read the book by Gillian Flyn, it is better to enjoy the film without knowing anything. With score from Trent Reznor, there is a dark atmosphere as the story progresses. This film is more than just police investiogation, it examines marriage, love, gender roles and psychology in a twist manner.

Some scenes are brutal and raunchy, viewers discretion advised. As a slow burner, this 149 minutes drama is not even boring at all. In fact it makes people scared of marriage. The revealing of Amy's fate not in the end of this film will make you gasp and it leads to a swirling, shocking and provoking ending. For all its secrets, Gone Girl is one of the year's best that will keep you by the edge of your seat.

Monday, November 17, 2014


Directed by: Florian Habicht
Running time: 93 minutes

I have to say that this one will be very subjective since I am a fan of this band. I grew up listening to them in the 90s. However I shall judge this documentary free from my rose tinted glasses. As a documentary, Pulp: a Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets is amazing. Although only works with Pulp fans.

If you have no idea what Pulp is and never heard of them, I suggest you watch another documentary about the origin of this Sheffield's pride. This one is not about the origin but on how common people (pun intended) in Sheffield see and tell how Pulp changes their lives, for the better.

This documentary extend beyond the "normal" MTV. It has fleeting moments, interviews with common people, some songs being sung by (also) common people and off course, the compulsory snippets from concerts in Sheffield. The way the cinematographer depicts the concert is good, it gives you a romantic view on Pulp and the followers.

Pulp: a Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets is about the process of growing old. It is more than just selfish documentary about self glorifying by having too much interviews woven in one big picture. It is more than just the story of Jarvis Cocker and friends, but the story of common people, just like us. Warm and tender, I think even non-Pulp fans can smile after watching this documentary.


Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater
Running time: 163 min

We have seen people grow in Harry Potter series, but Boyhood is another kind of growing up. Shot in 12 years with the same cast, we got to see how time flies, child grows and the adults, grow older. At the center of this story is Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane).

We follow Mason's life since 2002 to 2013, we seen the tiny tidbits that marks the passage of time such as gaming consoles, US presidential elections, popular culture references, and obviously how Mason Jr grew taller and taller as the film goes by. It is an amazing experience.

Mason is a child of divorce. His mother and his sister move around a lot from town to town. Mason's biological father only visits them for weekend and his mother marries someone else. The first step father was an asshole, the second one is almost an asshole too.

This, together with Mason's experience at school with his peers, shapes him to become a free spirited independent person. It asks deep questions without being too pretentious such as what is a family, do people change over time? Can someone have free will? And how to raise a child. As the film progresses, not only Mason "learns" how to become a human being, so does his parents while his step fathers are just man child not gutsy enough to face reality of life, they escaped by means of alcohol.

Richard Linklater proves once again that by simple dialogue and drama, he can make a captivating story just like Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight. The notion of cinema sculpting time and story is perfectly captures here and although the duration is long, it is a rewarding journey into Mason's adolescence and perhaps, reflection of our own.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer and anonymous
Running Time: 98 minutes

How do you feel if one day a stranger come up to your house and after pleasantries have been exchanged, that stranger said that your father, someone you deeply respected, is responsible for killing his brother for 50 or so years ago. That awkward uneasy silence will follow. Thus the title The Look of Silence or Senyap in Indonesian, is a perfect title for this documentary. It is a numbing silence, reacting to such revelation and stories of savagery.

This is not "just" a murder, this is a slaughter that happened in Indonesia in 1965 after the so called regime change and communist uprising (according to the government) happened. The Look of Silence is a stunning companion piece for The Act of Killing. In The Act of Killing, also covering the same historical frame, the main star is Anwar Congo, here there are many Anwar Congo, but with a twist. What if the so called people who comitted slaughter met with the family of he victims?

What done is done, said a supposedly perpetrator. A term we Indonesians always heard everywhere and used in many occasion. But nothing is ever done for Adi Rukun, he himself the youngest in his family. His brother, Ramli, is one of the victim killed in 1965. For years his parents must suffer the condemnation and discrimination felt by relatives of the people accused of being a member of communist party. As if there is a thing called inherited sin to anyone blood related to those being accused. 

Adi, himself a 40 something ophthalmologist, roams the streets in North Sumatra, "interviewing" the perpetrators and sometimes their families. He confronted them with harsh realities. Some of the dialogue are full with tense and awkward silence. Not all perpetrators are the same. Some would deny their responsibility and said that they did the right thing, some would vehemently defend their actions, some dare to recreate what they had done and some has no courage to look at Adi's eye directly. None of these perpetrators have face any law at all. They walk free in Indonesia.

In one tense scene, a family of the perpetrators (the perpetrators himself had passed away), shocked upon learning that their father is a member of the militia that hunt and killed many people, including Ramli. As if there is an earthquake happened in the room. Who to blame? This film clearly shows that even the perpetrator's family must bear the pain.

Filmed with different approach than The Act of Killing and also a stand alone from the Oscar nominated documentary, some of the scene in this documentary seem a bit "artificially framed" but the story is not. It is a real story and what happened to Adi's family, happened to hundred of thousands other families, who decided to just be silent. This is another powerful documentary from Joshua Oppenheimer, produced by Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, that shows that there is an open wound that everybody ignores under the saying: what done is done.