Ada Apa dengan Cinta?

Director:  Rudy Soejarwo
Year: 2002
Rating: 7.5
Country: Indonesia

What's Up with Love?

A couple of years ago I came across a screener of this youthful romance and found it more than a little charming and have hoped ever since to find it in digital form. Thus it was a pleasant surprise when I saw it had come out on VCD with English subtitles. Indonesian cinema is a black hole to most people outside of the country for a couple of reasons – there isn’t that much of it, what there is tends to be low budget dramas, romances and comedies and it’s content is severely censored in terms of sexual matter and violence – all things that generally lessen interest in the West, which still tends to approach Asian cinema for its exotic, violent, erotic and fantastic elements. But the prime reason that this cinema is so difficult to access is an even more basic one – similar to its next door neighbor Malaysia – the DVD format is not being utilized to any extent with nearly all their films being released only on VCD with English sub-titles being a rarity. This is primarily for financial reasons as most local consumers can’t afford DVDs and the VCD format fits them fine. Still it’s a shame as other countries in Asia have shown that giving their films international exposure has been a great boost for the local film industry and the easiest way to do this outside of film festivals is through the sub-titled DVD where people from all over the world can begin to appreciate and promote various films over the Internet.

This film is a perfect example of one that could capture a fan base outside of Indonesia with its utterly sweet, literate and touching story of young love. In many ways the film could take place anywhere with teenagers that have many of the same interests as those all over the world – hanging out in malls, going to concerts, practicing dance routines, playing basketball, first love, enduring friends and that getting ready for the first date ritual. Woven subtly within are issues of class, politics and abuse, but it is primarily concerned with love and friendship – the two driving factors of so much angst during our high school days. The film was a huge box office hit – not only in Indonesia but in Malaysia as well – and it generated a tremendous amount of controversy for one shocking scene – shocking I tell you - a kiss between the two main characters. Yes, a kiss. One kiss if I recollect. Apparently, this was the first film in decades in which an onscreen kiss was allowed and it brought in hordes of anxious teenagers to see it. I say recollect because much to my dismay it was censored out of the VCD! I guess someone thought it was necessary to filter out such evil going-ons which young people might see in the privacy of their homes and go on an insane kissing rampage. So if you should buy the VCD just imagine a lingering innocent kiss that occurs near the end of the film at the airport.

Taking place I think in present day Jakarta, it features five extremely close female friends going through the pain of high school. Their motto is “The problem of one is the problem of all and the enemy of one is the enemy of all”. When Cinta (which means “love” and who is played beguilingly by Dian Sastrowardoyo) loses in the school poetry competition to an unknown boy named Rangga (Nico Saputra), she is extremely disappointed until she reads his poem and is overwhelmed by it. She seeks him out for an interview for the school paper, but is immediately rebuffed by his aloof and surly attitude. She tells her compadres that he is to be put in the “must avoid” category in their collective journal, but of course she can’t as she finds herself drawn to this loner who seems so disinterested in the school life around him. And eventually, he to her. As one side character says “It’s like a 70’s romance. Love begins with books and goes to Saturday night”. But her romance begins to interfere with her clique chemistry and after near tragedy strikes, she feels she has to decide between love and friendship. Sweet and charming from the beginning to the end (with a nice soundtrack thrown in), this may feel all too familiar in many ways – even including a mad dash to the airport - but for those who can take one more innocent tale of first love this is a total winner.

Written  12/11/2006