Nugroho’s cinema features a lot of ladies in sensual and suffering scenes. So it makes symbolic sense that his career summary is dedicated to his mother. “My late mother once told me, “Nugroho recalls, “that before she turned 17, as a member of the Red Cross, she stood among hundreds of dead bodies on Braga Street, Bandung. Bodies of the victims of the massacre by the Dutch. She also witnessed the hundreds of deaths in 1965 (the bloody takeover by Suharto), and the chaos of violence in 1998 (the bloody resignation of Suharto)…
“I call this era “post-cinema”, the post-industrial era. It is a process of continual transformation of the media as well as constant interaction. The post-cinema world is a process of going back to the future.”
The event began with film critics discussing Nugroho’s contribution to Indonesian film which then segued into a musical performance highlighting the gamelan musicians and singers that he has been featuring since the groundbreaking Opera Jawa (2006). Finally, the audience were invited to see a series of installations that Nugroho personally commissioned as a tribute to his mother and the contradictory status of women in society.
Among his career highlights were:
And the Moon Dances (Bulan TertusukIlalang) 1995
My favourite of his films, mainly because it thrives on something that has always plagued him – the lack of a fully-written script. It’s almost a non-verbal narrative that actually hangs together and is just as haunting after repeated viewing. About a student of Javanese music and dance,who falls in love with the master’s favourite student (a sensual triangular relationship), the desire is shown through the aesthetics of pain. The world cinema classic scene has the lead actress sewing her own fingers and watching this scene just raises all your goose pimples. I have spoken to the actress.There are NO special effects here. What you see is what you get.
A Poet (PuisiTakTerkuburkan) 1999
Shot in seven days, this was Indonesia’s first digitally shot feature and a classic that easily ranks as Top 20 of all time in Indonesian cinema. In 1965, six generals were killed in Indonesia, and the Communist party was blamed. The result: under General Suharto, hundreds of thousands of people were imprisoned and executed as suspected Communists. Ibrahim Kadir, a poet from the village of Takengon, was accused of being a Communist and imprisoned for 28 days. Kadir becomes a living witness to the mass killings of an estimated 500,000 suspected communists by brutal military force.The majority of the actors are from Takengon, and are non-professionals whose families experienced this remembered tragedy first hand. Hearing the music in this film, you realize that if there’s anything that’s an equivalent for Indonesian blues, this would be it.
Bird Man Tale (AkuIngin Menciummu Sekali Saja) 2002
While West Papua (Irian Jaya) is part of Indonesia, no Indonesian director has made a film there, not until Nugroho’s Bird Man Tale.The film sets out to understand this Indonesian province through the infatuation of a young Papuan boy for a beautiful Indonesian woman. In the film, we also see the mysterious death of Papuan independence leader,Theys Hiyo Eluay in 2001, through documentary footage. But what the film brilliantly does is invert the roles of Indonesia and Papua. As there is only one Indonesian actress, Lulu Tobing, in the entire film, Indonesia inadvertently becomes the minority culture here. What it then does is confront the Indonesian audience to put themselves in the place of the minority.
All these films are now available online at http://www.asiapacificfilms.com/
by Philip Cheah