Opera Jawa

Director: Garin Nugroho
Year: 2006
Rating: 8.0
Country: Indonesia

This is the sort of art film that can either make you hit the floor hard after you nod off or fall into a hypnotic jaw breaking trance. Fortunately for my noggin, I was mesmerized by this visionary Indonesian folk opera tale that is all told in song, dance, stunning costumes, startling images and exotic designs. It is simply an amazing piece of work unlike anything I have seen anyway and there are moments of such beauty and imagination that they were transcendent. At times it is astonishingly sensual as well with dance movements and themes that would possibly be taboo in most Indonesian films but likely got a pass due to the artistic designs of the film plus I tend to doubt that this had a theatrical run. It is a telling of an ancient tale from the Hindi Ramayana - The Abduction of Sinta - that explores morality and fidelity. The story though is brought into modern times and brings in plot elements such as street demonstrations and corrupt businessmen. In truth it was a bit difficult for me to follow the story at first because I was hesitant to read the sub-titles and take my eyes off the big picture.

Previous to her marriage, Siti was a well-known dancer and interpreter of Sinta, but after her wedding she has to settle into a traditional wife’s role to her husband Seito. His pottery business is not going well and he has seemingly become impotent and begins to ignore his beautiful wife. Into this situation dances the sleazy but wealthy local businessman Ludiro who very much desires Siti – and one scene of him hiding beneath her skirt when the husband comes home is remarkable. Full of costumes, masks, miles of cloth, hundreds of extra’s and endless imagination this can hold you in rapt attention though I would be the first to admit that many may be bored to tears if this doesn’t sound like their cup of tea. But quite honestly I was expecting to be one of the latter and found myself held completely captive by the constant undulating beauty of this film.