Upi, the most enterprising and coolest director in Indonesian cinema, returns to the screens of Far East Film in Udine for the fifth time with her newest film, My Generation. Dedicated to millennials, it represents an attempt to provide young post-2000 Indonesians with a dramatic comedy that nods to the tones and themes of the youth comedies of the 1980s and ‘90s. To do so, it adopts the proven recipe of the conflict between young people and institutions – for which read school and family – and comes equipped with a soundtrack that ranges from hip hop to rock and which aims to win over the audience through its ears.
In terms of narrative construction, the setup is a simple one: Upi assembles a quartet of youngsters – two boys and two girls, close friends who are inseparable but free from romantic relationships (yes, you read that right – there are no couples among the four of them, even though Upi initially introduces an amusing homoerotic frisson between the two boys) who end up in trouble (surprise!) because of a couple of videos posted on YouTube and which go viral among their schoolmates. In these videos – which have pretty unequivocal titles like, “Why school and teachers suck” and “Why parents suck” – Zeke, Konji, Orly and Suki (the four protagonists) air their feelings about their teachers and their parents. It’s the eve of the holidays, but punishment from their families is inevitable, so, between endless arguments and simmering generational conflict, the four are put ‘on probation’.
Upi offers us a cross-section of a specific social class: the young people she portrays are urban and well-off, the children of established professionals (even if we don’t know the parent’s professions, we can guess as much from their homes and their clothing). As such, they attend private international schools where the language of study is English, meaning that the slang they speak to one another is 50% English, with standard Indonesian being the language they use to converse with their parents. All except in the case of Orly’s mother, who is obsessed with social media, eternally intent on taking selfies and chatting on Snapchat and infatuated with a man young enough to be her son: “Mom,” her daughter asks her, “are you a Belieber?”
The paradoxes and misunderstandings in their relationships with their parents are at the heart of the film: the traditionalist and religious mother and father (played by Upi’s colleague and close friend Joko Anwar) of Konji are constantly criticising him and comparing today’s world with their own day, when ethics and morality really mattered. Zeke’s parents are so trapped in their grief over a family tragedy that communication with their son is completely cut off. Suki’s family are so disapproving of her passion for music and the fact that she hangs out with ‘bad company’ that her father is considering sending her to complete her studies in Singapore (the inevitable destination for a university career for Indonesians of good family).
But the other theme along which the narrative develops is that of the ‘internal’ crises of adolescence. Even here, despite Facebook-era updates, we are presented with a repertoire of ‘classic’ situations: Orly wants to subvert patriarchal dynamics through an experiment in sexual gender dynamics where she will deflower a preselected boy, Konji’s romantic life is suffocated by the judgemental moralising of his parents, who are opposed to promiscuity and pre-marital sex, Suki has to deal with a bad break up with her cheating boyfriend and sinks into emo depression, while Zeke, the most amicable and loyal of the group, clings to his friends as he tries to find solutions to the problems of the others, avoiding dealing with the ones he carries within himself.
With affection and understanding, Upi highlights how the differences between the past and contemporary life haven’t changed the dynamics of growing up and entering adulthood as a teen, when the strength of friendship acts as a glue capable of holding the group together. Coming as it does in a lighthearted rock’n’roll package, it’s sure to be a hit with the Konjis, Zekes, Orlys and Sukis who crowd the multiplexes of Jakarta and the surrounding area.
Upi Avianto is the most popular and versatile director in Indonesian commercial cinema. She began her career as a screenwriter and made her directorial debut in 2004 with the romantic comedy 30 Hari Mencati Cinta. She then dedicated herself to a rock diptych with Realita, Cinta dan Rock’n Roll and Radit & Jani. The second, a desperate story of love and drug addiction, was the first of her films to be shown at the Far East Film Festival. Three more of her films have since featured in the FEFF programme: the ambitious gangster drama The Last Wolf (Serigala Terakhir, 2009), the delirious psychological thriller Shackled (Belenggu, 2012) and the comic hit My Stupid Boss (2016).
2004 – 30 Hari Mencari Cinta
2006 – Realita, Cinta dan Rock’n Roll
2008 – Radit & Jani (2008)
2009 – Serigala Terakhir
2010 – Red CobeX
2012 – Belenggu
2016 – My Stupid Boss
2017 – My Generation