In 1998, at the same time as the fall of Suharto, a new generation of Asian cinema was announced by the presentation to the public, more than a year after the complex clandestine realisation, of an independent film in episodes called Kuldesak. The directors of the four episodes, Nan T. Achnas, Mira Lesmana, Riri Riza and Rizal Mantovani all followed, in different ways, as directors of commercial films (Rizal Mantovani), auteur films (Nan T. Achnas) or both (Riri Riza) or as producers (Mira Lesmana), their own paths in the local industry which at the time was recovering from a devastating crisis. Confidentially circulated at the time, Kuldesak in time became the manifesto of an epochal change in Asian cinema.
Flash forward to 2010. The Indonesian film industry, after a decade of growth, gives signs of a new crisis, this time a markedly creative crisis. At the end of a year which saw a decrease in average takings, a decline in production and a modest level of quality of the product itself, a glimmer of hope shines under the form of an independent film in episodes, destined for an alternative circuit, Belkibolang.
Directed by nine directors (aged 20-30) who previously made short films or at most one feature-length film, Belkibolang comes from an entirely female initiative. The scriptwriter and co-producer Titien Wattimena proposed the idea of a film made up of a series of short stories which talk about the metropolis Jakarta by night, showing its most absurd and unusual aspects, to Meiske Taurisia, an independent producer who made Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly (2008), the first feature-length film by Edwin, the most famous director among those involved. All nine young filmmakers called to contribute discussed the narrative ideas with Titien and with her they developed the script. They each maintained their own narrative and stylistic individuality and yet, the film has an unusually coherent vein, due of course to Titien’s input.
The first episode, Umbrella, by Agung Sentausa, is a delicate symphony played on a tender game of attraction, between uncertainty, fear of being misunderstood and a simple friendly offer of the object of the title, on a rainy tropical night.
In Chitchat by Ifa Isfansyah we witness a curious exercise in style, based on an arrangement of words, staging and functional editing like a palindrome – and an amusing dissertation about the relationships between men and women.
With Mamalia, Tumpal Christian Tampubolon signs a salacious sketch based on the selfish offer of a lift by a motorcyclist to a sexy young woman who is looking for a mysterious (an obviously unfindable) address.
Elephant Planet by Rico Marpaung is a collage of images and music which focuses on a romantic affair.
The revelation of the lot is Gecko by Anggun Priambodo, interpreted by Edwin. It is a real blaze of crazy filmic invention, which incisively describes the frustrations caused by one of the sudden controlled blackouts that strike the districts of the Indonesian metropolis.
In Peron by Azhar Lubis the music is the protagonist once again: a young man at the station is listening to his iPod while he looks at a girl waiting on the opposite platform who seems to be moving to the beat of the songs on his playlist.
With Ella, Wisnu Surya Pratama tackles important themes connected to the social contradictions present in the world’s biggest Muslim country, with a surprisingly light-hearted tone: on the last night of ritual fasting, a prostitute prepares to return to her mother in Surabaya, amidst conversations with a street seller of duck meat.
Anggun Priambodo returns Edwin’s favour by starring in his film Rollercoaster, a surprising and amusing risqué game among friends in a hotel room; another real gem!
The final chapter, Full Moon by Sidi Saleh takes place on New Year’s Eve in a taxi and tells the story of a couple in crisis… with a truly galvanising finale!
Maybe not all Belkibolang’s nine directors will mark the future of Indonesian cinema, but you can bet that some of them will continue to generate interest and on this occasion they have all been able to significantly ‘turn a corner’… The title, Belkibolang, is in fact a Jakartan abbreviation for belok kiri boleh langsung, which means “passage open when turning left”, a road sign which is contrary to the usual direction of right of way. Belkibolang’s most wholesome transgression is certainly the free, amusing and unpretentious spirit which permeates it, making it a breath of fresh air in the suffocating panorama of Indonesian cinema of this last year.