Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Girls on Film

As well as having to deal with the multi-headed hydra of all the country’s other woes, Indonesians now face the very real possibility of being deprived of Hollywood and other imported movies, as the nation's cinemas battle with new tax regulations. It's all highly complex and convoluted, as these things invariably are, however, in a nutshell, the film industry is squaring off against the government regarding a threatened import tax increase.

This would be a major blow to the cinema going public of course. Personally, I rely on the gentle flickering of the silver screen to prevent me from ever experiencing any genuine emotion and fear a total psychic meltdown should the psychological crutch of the Hollywood cliché be removed from my life. In any case, the speciously nationalistic argument being offered is that the government is trying to support the national film industry, not that it has ever given much of a stuff about it before, but there you go.

A few shining beacons of excellence aside, the Indonesian film industry is primarily known for its gratuitously titillating, lowest common denominator fare, which is usually liberally peppered with toilet roll wrapped zombies, buxom wenches straight from the central casting couch, and balloon-bursting-noise-face-punch sound effects.

However, as we could all be forced to watch this stuff in the future, I thought that it would be best to check out a few local offerings. With this in mind, I picked up three local DVDs last week. They were all originals too, and priced between Rp.29,000 and Rp.49,000 (the fact that the vendors I visited didn't stock any pirated local films was not of the slightest interest to me, let me assure you).

I selected the three movies in question, which have all been screened at the country's Studio 21 cinemas over the last year or so, from the racks entirely at random. Even the one that sported a front cover image of local siren Julia Perez in her underwear was a random selection. Pure pot luck in fact, amazing really.

So let's get down to brass tacks then. First up was, "Nakalnya Anak Muda" (Naughty Youngsters), a murder thriller set in a spooky villa (yawn). In this effort, a group of chaps pick up a couple of sloe-eyed slatterns at a disco and they all head out to the countryside for a nice holiday, where the guy operating the dry ice machine really lets rip with some pea souper ambience.

Plot written by a hamster with its brain wired up to a pocket calculator aside, Indonesian movie production values definitely seem to have improved of late and the action sequences had an almost Cape Fear-esque moodiness to them.

Alas, the only two surviving members of the murdered gang head down to the local police station, where the local arm of the law proves to be a model of professional concern. This bit required a suspension of disbelief above and beyond the capabilities of my perhaps meager imagination however. So I rebooted the DVD player and inserted our next Golden Garuda nominated effort, "Wakil Rakyat" (People's Representatives), which promised to be a political satire slash romantic comedy.

In this flick, we find ourselves at the conference of a fictional political party, the PSK (Partai Social Kerakyatan, which translates as the Social Democratic Party). The movie's hero, a janitor at the conference, let's a cat loose backstage to take care of the buildings rat problem. Alas however, the wily feline instead attacks the vermin like political elites, a nice play on a popular political metaphor.

The love story in this one is, as usual, as slushy as the bottom of a warung cool box, however there were a few nice touches of political satire to enjoy, which is something that should definitely be encouraged here in my view. God knows that if the country's script writers really sharpened up their knives, then there’s enough material for thousands of movies for them to get stuck into.

Alas, the satire in this effort seemed to get slightly smothered by all of the doe-eyed fawning. Presumably though, what with this country's political culture, directors and producers here still run the risk of ending up embedded in a central pillar support in one of the city’s currently under construction flyovers if they overstep the mark.

The final show was Julia Perez's "Istri Bo'ongan" (Pretend Wife). Hand shaking in anticipation of 90 minutes of truculent, quivering Perez, I loaded the disc into the machine, had a cold shower and pressed play. Julia's busty substances had certainly been given a starring role and in the film's opening scene we see our heroine, the perfidious Perez, picking up a guy in a bar, taking him home and then being roughly taken from behind against a plate glass window.

After a five-minute break to take my blood pressure meds and to apply a few icy flannels to my forehead, I pressed play again and pressed on with the movie. A tale of love, jealousy and deception unfolded before my eyes and built to a not entirely satisfying denouement, but who cares when young Julia’s there to save the day. It was just as well I was watching this one at home because smoking isn’t allowed in Studio 21 cinemas and my retinas were definitely starting to smolder.

So, will the Indonesian movie scene flourish? Well, as French art-house ponce Jean-Luc Godard once said, "All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl." By this account, Oscar nominations surely beckon.