July 21, 2008

Novel Tanpa Huruf R

'Novel Tanpa Huruf R', local cinema new low

The Jakarta Post, Saturday, August 16, 2003

Joko Anwar, Contributor, Jakarta

Hats may be off to director/co-producer Aria Kusumadewa's efforts to get his latest movie made. But he must be asking for too much if he expects to hear any applause when the closing credits roll.

Novel Tanpa Huruf R (A Novel Without R) is a frustratingly incoherent mess with towering pretentiousness that gives freedom of artistic expression a bad name.

The filmmakers may argue they are only trying to deliver an important message of anti-violence but they only end up being backed up by their own nemesis.

These are filmmakers who think they can say something through shocks. Well, they may get our attention but certainly not our hearts. The movie is bleak, mean-spirited and completely unrewarding

In his earlier movie Beth, about life in a mental hospital, he showed a female inmate kissing a cockroach. In Novel Tanpa Huruf R, Aria seems determined to satisfy his fondness for grossness posing as art.

There are gratuitous shots of cows being slaughtered and dismembered human body parts. A close shot of dog poop being picked up is more irony than the movie can handle since it is the best way to describe the film.

The story is extremely muddled. Whatever good intention the filmmakers may try to say is lost.

The movie opens with a scene where a man and his little son wake up after being stranded on a beach. How they can be stranded there? The movie does not seem to care to tell.

However, the film does care to show an iceberg ... on an Indonesian beach. Of course the filmmakers can always argue that their movie is an art film so the iceberg is meant to be a symbol of something. But who cares?

Anyway, the movie continues with the man and his son living in a big house on the island where the man has a ritual of getting angry with God for causing him to lose his wife, presumably in an event before they were stranded on the beach. (How they can suddenly own a big house, the movie does not seem care to tell).

All we know is that the little boy, Drum (played by newcomer Agastya) is accustomed to violence since he often sees cattle being slaughtered in the slaughterhouse where his father works.

Meanwhile, his father is often engaged in a fight with government officials who come down to the island to forcefully buy his property.

Several cow slaughters later, Drum lives in the city where he works at a crime news tabloid.

In doing his job, Drum has to witness so much violence. One inventive example is where a woman who is having an affair with a married man has her face smashed in with a durian fruit by the man's wife.

What we don't get is why Drum who hates violence still works for an exploitive tabloid. He even publishes a book that contains a series of crime stories he wrote.

Oh, there is a love story, too.

Among many characters who come and go for no apparent reason is Drum's lawyer girlfriend who then becomes a victim of a mass murder. Soon, Drum becomes a God hater just like his dad, especially as he also loses two dogs.

Drum moves back to the island where he lives in a quite luxurious studio by the beach. Is he supposed to be able to afford the place from his paycheck as a journalist or do the filmmakers want us to believe that his crappy book becomes a best seller?

Meanwhile, the government officials keep coming to the island to buy Drum's old house and send people to terrorize Drum's childhood friend who now lives there.

Drum also develops a new routine on the island. Every full moon, he will pay a hooker to come to his studio where he will tie her up and sleep naked next to her.

In the meantime, there is a female post-graduate student (played by Lola Amaria who also co-executive produced with Aria) who is doing a study on Drum's book and tracks him down to the island. Too bad she comes to his house when he is in a bad mood after learning that his best friend has been arrested for murdering another hooker.

Drum kidnaps the student and ties her up to the bed just like he does to the hooker and keeps her for several days while he is writing his new novel.

After an incident, Drum loses his left middle finger, which makes him unable to type the letter r in his novel. This is just plain ridiculous.

If Drum can not type the letter r because he does not have a middle finger, this means that he decides to stick to the 10-finger typing rule. This also means that he shouldn't be able to type the letters d, e and c.

However, after endless absurdity this last goof seems negligible.

Chances are you will never see this movie in the multiplexes since the film producers plan to show it in an event they call a "movie road show" where they will play the movie in colleges and art centers across the country.

Aria also applied the same distribution strategy to his earlier movie, Beth.

It is quite inspiring to see these young filmmakers' determination to get their movie made. Too bad in the end, their energy is wallowed in sensationalism and they drown in ultra-pretentiousness.


Novel Tanpa Huruf R (A Novel Without R) Drama, zero stars out of four Starring Agastya, Lola Amaria Directed by Aria Kusumadewa