Category Archives: Film

How To Dream in Motion Picture

by Bonni Rambatan

A couple of disclaimers before we begin: First, this review will contain spoilers — that is, if the word still has any meaning for this film. Second, the director and producer of this film, Richard Oh, is an acquaintance I know personally, and I admit that my knowledge of his philosophical repertoire undeniably colors this review. Third, I watched the film in a cinema, with no access to a video file to recheck scenes and dialogues, so this review was written mostly from memory.

An Absurd Silence

Let’s get the basics out of the way. The film seems to be an independent feature, suffering from those characteristically indie technical kinks and issues (lack of lighting, shaky camera, a few instances of bad acting, and so on). Some may be intentional, some may not, most do not matter. We will not be discussing those.

Second, to categorize the film as out-of-the-box is an understatement. It’s the type of film that gets people giggling in confusion and shaking their heads upon leaving the cinema building.

It’s not a surreal film as much as it is absurd. The film deconstructs itself then contradicts itself. It provides its own meaning only to be denied later, and tells its narrative diagonally in multiple layers of reality. It offers only the seduction of meaning, only the shadow of a story.

It’s neither a good film nor a bad film — the word loses its meaning as soon as you watch the film. The plot begins slow, then quickly loses its own point in a series of seemingly unrelated montages. The shots are too long, the silences too meaningless. Hollywood would have burned themselves long before they make anything like this.

And that’s what makes it interesting.

The absurd utilizes silence as a means of subversion. And that, I think, is what this film does well.

Symptoms of a Repressed Industry

The tagline of the film reads: Stories have Dreams. Dreams have Stories.

It’s easy to read this film as being about the dream of Joko, the main character. But I think there is something more interesting at play — something more important: To me, this film is a collective dream of the Indonesian film industry as a whole.

It is no secret that Indonesian pop culture, what with all its exclamations of finding local identities, is ironically heading more and more towards a monoculture of banal love with cliched, conservative words of wisdom regarding religious values. You can find this everywhere: films, television, novels, comic books, social media, you name it.

Where do other genres go? Out the window. Down the drain. Burning in development hell or hacked to pieces under the brutal regime of Indonesian censorship and market forces.

In a word: We are repressed. As an industry and a society, we are all repressed. Repressed, as it were, under the regime of religious enjoyment.

Religion as Mode of Enjoyment

In many parts, the film shows witty scenes that unmask the true nature of religion in Indonesian cinema (and, by extension, Indonesian pop culture in general): The morality it claims is a thin mask for enjoyment — a source of drama, a false depth in a world of shallow interactions, a cheap token.

As such, what religious themes provide is a sort of superegoistic injunction to enjoy life in a certain way, an imperative that life can be enjoyed only in a certain way, that life has to be made sense of only in a certain way.

Melancholy shows this true nature — as well as the forces that operate behind the screens: The economic pressure, the depression, the loss of identity as one is subsumed into the vicious cycle of ideological reproduction.

This film was borne of this very repression, as a dream that gives way to much the repressed desires of Indonesia. It gives shape to the dream in an absurdist, almost meaningless form.

Resisting Meaning

Meaning is blatantly resisted in Melancholy, even going as far as to have a character mention that “a film is not a speech,” followed by a conversation that veers very close to nonsense. This is a crucial move: What this film protests is not only the genre of religious films itself, but the temptation to find meaning itself.

“Semua ada hikmahnya,” we all like to say: “You can find a blessing, a message, in every incident.”

But what if there isn’t? What if these blessings are all pre-fabricated and endlessly reproduced by an industry that alienates and siphons off all creativity that does not speak its ideological language?

“Why do people demand ‘what’s next?’ in a story?” a character says. Because, when you look at it, is what’s next really a next? With all these repressive forces that shape our society, are we really moving forward?

Even if you feel you are in the driver’s seat, you don’t own the car — the car doesn’t even work. You’re just being pushed around by two guys who can’t even agree on their views.

And one day, you will wake up without a voice, realizing you have buried something very dear to you.

Is Melancholy a Movement?

Is there still hope in meaninglessness? If the title hints at anything, I think it is this very possibility.

Melancholy is a Movement. In psychoanalysis, melancholy refers to a condition in which a person continues to perform an action while the reason to do so has been lost, usually due to a lack of proper mourning. In the film, our protagonist lives in melancholy in the face of the various market forces he deals with.

It is also a movement, I believe, because the dreams and absurdities borne of it produce new space of possibilities — shedding light, as Deleuze would have it, on the lines of flight.

The opening scene is not a simple mourning scene of a person, or a dog. It is a mourning scene of the entire Indonesian film industry and its multitude of idealisms. A mourning, one can say, that stretches to the very end, to the depths of the water prominent in its posters

The existence of this film illustrates that we can never be silenced. Try as one might, the repressed desires and ideas will always return in another shape or form.

Telling The Truth About Film

by Yuliastri Perdani, The Jakarta Post

FA Melancholy Is A Movement Poster Choosed Sosmed

The Twitter account of Richard Oh was full of virtual applause after the release of his latest film, Melancholy Is a Movement, in April.

Some also noted that the theaters screening the film were less than full — every director’s nightmare. It was ironic, since the film explored the confusion and frustrations of directors and actors working in the nation’s troubled film industry.

At a post-screening discussion, Richard talked about shooting Melancholy — as well as its budget, a taboo subject for many directors. “I was given several hundred million rupiah, so I made the movie.”

Based on outline penned by Richard, the film follows a grieving director who makes a religious movie due to financial pressures. The cast included fellow director Joko Anwar, Ario Bayu, Fachri Albar, Renata Kusmanto, Hannah Al Rashid, Amink and Karina Salim.

With only a 75-minute runtime, the movie boasts witticisms about idealistic directors, frustrated actors, the sorry state of sinetron (local soap operas) and the film industry in general.

Although the characters share the names of the actors portraying them, Richard said that the movie was a work of fiction. “I play with the states of immobility and mobility through the movie […] to show that there is a condition in our [film] industry that makes it create such characters.”

Adopting an improvisational approach, Richard gave freedom to his actors.

“The script contained dialogue that was later enriched by the actors during filming,” he said. “They can freely improvise. I become the referee who makes sure that they do not get off track. This approach has enriched the movie.”

While Richard’s first film, Koper (English title: The Lost Suitcase), from 2006, had a difficult time both at the box office and with critics, the director makes no apologies for telling stories in different ways.

“I made Koper because I wanted to try something. When Koper was released, there was a lot of criticism over the movie’s slow pace,” Richard said. “In fact, that’s the core of the movie.”

Starring sinetron actor Anjasmara and writer Djenar Maesa Ayu, Koper told of the struggle of a humble civil servant, Yahya, against materialism and corruption after he finds a suitcase that might contain a billion rupiah stolen from a bank.

Vanishing after a single week at local cinemas, Koper received a warmer welcome internationally and was screened at several film festivals.

Melancholy, too, had an all-too-brief theatrical run in Indonesia, although Richard is undeterred.

“Nowadays, it appears that film critics and reviewers are much more clever, he says. “So far, the movie has received starkly different reviews — ranging from a half star to four stars. I’m glad about that.”

Richard, who studied English literature and creative writing at the University of Wisconsin, has written three novels — the Pathfinders of Love in 1999, Heart of the Night in 2000 and The Rainmaker’s Daughter in 2004.

Concerns over the state of literature in Indonesia led him to launch the Khatulistiwa Literary Award, now known as the Kusala Sastra Khatulistiwa.

The awards, founded in collaboration with then-Plaza Senayan CEO Takeshi Ichiki in 2001, honor the best prose and poetry in the nation.

After closing his QB World bookstores, Richard opened the library-inspired Reading Room cafe and lounge in Kemang, South Jakarta. It quickly became a creative hub for filmmakers and writers.

Richard went on to direct Description without Place in 2012, which revolved around the separate stories of three women in Bali. Starring and coproduced by Happy Salma, a release date for the film has not been fixed.

He has also completed production on Terpana (Stunned), starring Fachri Albar and Raline Shah, which is a tale of a love-struck man in pursuit of a woman.

Richard was realistic when asked about the lengthy gap between Koper and Melancholy. “I am not the type of director to who people will happily give their money.”

Nevertheless, he kept working. “It took four years to finish my last novel. In Melancholy, I gathered all the ideas in my head and wrote them down as 20-page of script.”

Richard’s love affair with cinema will not be eroded by commercial failure or critics. After all, Richard says, his objective in making a movie is not making a crowd-pleasing blockbuster. “For me, making a movie is to explore, develop or deliver something.”

Richard wants to respect the intelligence of his audience, allowing viewers to interpret his works as they would, rather than offering pap moral lessons delivered through formulaic Hollywood-style storytelling.

“Many writers in the market manipulate the story to direct the moviegoers to here and there,” Richard says. “My movie is a dialogue, something to spark questions.”

– See more at:

Reading Literature Through The Cinema

While their cinematic approaches greatly differ, these film directors – Neil Jordan, Bernardo Bertolucci and Oliver Stone – share one thing in common: they are all published writers. Neil Jordan started out as a short story writer. His first published collection of short stories entitled Night In Tunisia won the Guardian Fiction Prize. He has since written a number of novels, last of which, Sunrise with Sea Monster, was published in 1994. Bernardo Bertolucci came from a literary family. His father was a renowned poet and he himself aspired to be a poet, which he became and won a prestigious prize in Venice. As a favor to Bertolucci’s father who had helped publish his first novel, Pasolini installed Bertolucci as his first assistant for Accattone. Bertolucci’s career in film was set for good. Oliver Stone published a novel entitled A Child’s Night Dream in 1997 and never thought twice about writing novels again. He stated in an interview that he didn’t believe in the future of novels.
There is always this kindred connection between literature and films. The three examples illustrated above shows one fact: that most writers who switch over to the celluloid seldom publish another novel. They still write for sure, but mostly screenplays. (In a bizarre twist, actors tend to do the reverse. They started out as actors and began publishing after establishing themselves in the film industry: Ethan Hawke (Ash Wednesday), Carrie Fisher (Postcards from the Edge), and Steve Martin (Shopgirl). And they continue to publish new literary works as if this were their new-found ancillary career!)
The new batch of films based on great literary works – Balzac’s The Duchess of Langeais (made beautifully by Jacques Rivette as Ne Touchez Pas La Hache), Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited – proves that Oliver Stone might have made a premature statement about the future of novels, but one would have to admit, albeit begrudgingly, that his prediction about the future of film industry is indisputable. Aside from one or two disasters, see Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, most great novels have been successfully adapted for the screen. Atonement, Ne Touchez Pas La Hache (Don’t Touch the Axe), and Brideshead Revisited, along with the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s Oil (renamed There Will Be Blood), will undoubtedly soon join other film classics of all time such as Gone With The Wind, Doctor Zhivago and such modern classics as Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Ishiguro’s The Remains of The Day.
Ian McEwan enjoyed the success of Atonement with a knowing smirk. He made no bones about the success of the film to have anything to do with his novel. He should know better. His other novel Enduring Love was also adapted for the screen but didn’t turn out as well as The Atonement. While I doubt if Gabriel Garcia Marquez would let any of his novels to be be made into a film again after the disastrous result of Love in the Time of Cholera, I believe both McEwan and Ishiguro would continue to sell the film rights of their novels. Even the persnickety author like Philip Roth allowed himself to enjoy a modicum of success from his novels’ adaptations: The Human Stain and Elegy (based on The Anatomy Lesson). Meanwhile, Salman Rushdie wrote about his frustration over the years to put together a workable screenplay from his famous novel, Midnight’s Children.
I suppose fiction writers know the electrifying power of the screen. They know how their works translated into films can reach out to more audiences worldwide than their novels can ever hope to achieve. They also know that if the adaptations fail at the box office, the film director is to be blamed, not their novels. As such, there is a lot to be gained from allowing their novels to be adapted for the screen.
But why are film directors so obsessed with adapting from novels? Some go to great lengths to take the challenges of such impossibly interior literary works as Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (The Hours) and Roth’s The Human Stain. Maybe the novels, unlike hastily put together screenplays, provide fuller characters in more comprehensive settings. Or maybe just as the actors, after years acting out roles, try their hands at creating characters in fiction, film directors want to challenge themselves by bringing novels alive on the screen.
Whatever the case maybe, literature and films seem to be entwined in a symbiotic relationship that goes way back to a handful of hunters and gatherers around a bonfire telling each other a cracking good yarn. In modern days, these same men and women watch themselves tell good yarns on the screen. All the same, damn good storytellers are required to start the fire.

A version of this article was published in The Jakarta Globe, January 2009

Aku Suka, Dia Tidak: Sebuah Titik Berangkat Apresiasi Film

Empat sutradara duduk di satu sudut kafe tak jauh dari sebuah bioskop. Mereka baru selesai menonton film Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan. Di saat mereka mulai menjelaskan kenapa mereka suka/tidak suka film itu, kita menguping percakapan mereka.

Sutradara 1: Beda sekali besutan Aronofsky ini. Jauh berbeda dengan karya-karya sebelumnya. Realis dan kelam. Di film-film sebelumnya selalu ada secercah harapan, sebuah tujuan akhir yang seakan digapai oleh karakter-karakternya, seperti di The Fountain dan Requiem for A Dream.

Sutradara 2: Dari karya-karyanya justru The Wrestler yang berbeda. Mungkin satu-satunya film Aronofsky yang tanpa tedeng-aling. Tanpa ada yang muluk-muluk tentang harapan dsb. Black Swan, saya kira masih masuk dalam kelompok film sebelumnya seperti Pi, Requiem for A Dream dan The Fountain. Tapi aku suka sekali film ini. Aronofsky, menurut aku, berhasil menangkap mood sebuah dunia yang tercerabut itu.

Sutradara 3: Sama sekali tak suka film ini. Di genre drama suspense seperti ini, saya kira Aronofsky tidak berhasil membuat sebuah terobosan yang dahsyat. Apa hebatnya kalau dibanding dengan Psycho atau besutan Roman Polanski… film apa itu…Rosemary’s Baby. Atau lebih spesifik soal split-personality, dibanding dengan film Sybil. Kalau mau bicara ending yang bikin histeris, The Crying Game baru dahysat. Film ini endingnya ya biasalah. Hollywood. Yang jahat menang. Tapi yang baik tidak juga kalah karena mengalah.

Sutradara 4: Saya kira, kita bisa menyukai sebuah film tanpa harus menjustifikasinya secara keseluruhan. Terlebih kalau kita berbicara tentang film genre. Pasti ada sesuatu yang bisa kita petik dari sebuah film. Baik yang menyenangkan ataupun yang membuat kita kesal. Jadi tergantung apa yang ingin kita ambil dari film itu.

Empat sutradara. Masing-masing telah memberikan alasan masing-masing tentang sebuah film yang mereka baru tonton. Apakah komentar Sutradara 4 menjadi sebuah acuan bagi kita untuk mengapresiasi sebuah film? Kalau demikian, Sutradara 4 tidak beda dengan Sutrada 1 dan 2. Karena baik Sutradara 1 dan 2, masing-masing mengambil sesuatu dari besutan Aronofski untuk menjadi pijakan kesukaan mereka, yakni teknik pengarahan atau aspek-aspek tertentu dari karyanya. Sutradara 3 agak berbeda, ia membandingkan Black Swan dengan film-film lain untuk mendapat sebuah tolok ukur tafsiran. Sutradara 3 boleh kita sebut sebagai seorang penafsir yang lebih objektif. Karena ia menarik diri dari pengaruh karya Aronofski dan dari sebuah posisi berjarak menilai karyanya. Bila kita menolak metode Sutradara 1, 2 dan 4 sebagai sebuah pendekatan relatifis, bisakah kita pergunakan metode Sutradara 3 sebagai sebuah strategi untuk mengapresiasi sebuah film? Saya kira, pasti banyak yang beranggapan bahwa tentu saja bisa, terutama kalau kita berbicara tentang sebuah film bergenre. Namun tulisan kecil ini akan mencoba menjelaskan kenapa metode ini mustahil bisa dipergunakan dalam sebuah apresiasi yang sejati untuk sebuah karya film. Bila kita tidak bisa mengapresiasi sebuah film dari keping-kepingnya (karena cara demikian seperti yang disebut oleh Alain Badiou sebagai sebuah penilaian diacritic, terjerat dalam kerangka karya itu sendiri) dan juga tidak bisa mengkonstitusikan sebuah tafsiran lewat studi banding di kategorinya ataupun dengan memilah-milah setiap aspek film, kemanakah kita harus membidik untuk mendapatkan sebuah supraposisi?

Film disebut Alain Badiou sebagai sebuah seni yang tidak murni. Film baginya terkonstitusi lewat subtraksi dari berbagai seni lainnya: musik, bahasa dan imaji. Oleh karena itu, gerakan dalam sebuah film berfungsi untuk membersihkan impuritas dalam dirinya, yakni lewat penyuntingan, pengambilan gambar berulang dan pemaduan suara. Pembersihan ini, atau subtraksi ini, membuka ruang bagi sebuah Ide untuk melintasinya. Keberhasilan sebuah film bagi Badiou adalah ketika pembersihan itu berhasil menguak sebuah Ide yang begitu memikat sehingga sebagai penonton kita hanyut dalam sebuah alam nostalgia. Oleh karena itu, Badiou menyebut film sebagai sebuah medium yang selalu sudah berlalu. Nostalgia itu tidak berada dalam tubuh film, tidak juga dalam setiap frame, tapi dari sebuah subtraksi gerakan palsu, yang mengantar kita ke sebuah tempat jauh dari tempat menonton.

Impuritas yang ditafsir oleh Badiou dipertegas oleh Jacques Ranciere sebagai sebuah kebuntuan antara yang terlihat dan yang terkatakan. Baik yang terlihat maupun yang terkatakan bagi Ranciere masing-masing punya keterbatasan. Sebuah imaji yang kuat bisa begitu mendominasi sehingga ia membungkam semua kata yang mencoba mengungkapnya. Sebaliknya narasi terkait satu dengan lain membelenggunya dalam sebuah logika spatio-temporal yang tidak memungkinnya bebas bersentuhan dengan kesejatian yang terlihat.

Setiap kali seorang aktor mengucapkan sesuatu, kata-katanya tidak serta merta menyatu dengan apa yang ada di ruang terlihat, tetapi selalu mengejar pemaparan yang terlihat. Walau demikian, Ranciere menyatakan bahwa film paling dekat dengan sebuah novel. Kenapa ia mengatakan ini? Dari sudut yang agak berbeda, namun intinya hampir sama seperti Badiou dan teori subtraksinya, Ranciere memositkan bahwa makna dalam sebuah film terkuak justru lewat sebuah operasi imanen dalam kebuntuan-kebuntuan ini. Bila sebuah novel lewat bahasa bisa mengungkapkan apa yang tak terlihat menjadi terlihat, maka film menguak sebuah makna lewat sebuah titik kebuntuan dalam ketakterkatakan dari yang terlihat dan yang terkatakan. Intinya, dengan membidik sebuah kamera pada sebuah objek dan lewat sebuah operasi imanen beranjak dari situasi itu memaksakan sebuah makna terkuak dari kebisuan. Atau lewat sebuah dialog yang terucap menghadirkan alteritas dari yang terlihat.

Lewat paparan di atas, kita bisa lantas menyimpulkan bahwa sebuah film terkonstitusi bukan lewat sebuah struktur narasi ataupun kolase visual, tapi lewat sebuah operasi yang beranjak dari sebuah kebuntuan antara bahasa dan imaji. Atau istilah Badiou, lewat sebuah gerakan palsu, sebuah subtraksi. Di lokus kebuntuan inilah sebuah posibilitas tercipta. Walaupun setiap karya film dalam bentuk jadinya bisa dikategorikan atau berelasi dengan karya-karya lain dalam sebuah keluarga arche, ia tidak bisa ‘dipisahkan’ dari dirinya sendiri. Ia hanya ‘terpisahkan’ dari dirinya lewat subtraksi penonton yang bisa menguakkan operasi-operasi imanen di dalamnya. Oleh karena itu, sebuah film lebih tepat disebut sebagai sebuah perbedaan beresonasi daripada sebuah keutuhan per unit.

Keterkaitannya dengan film-film lain hanya sebatas referensi, sama sekali tak berhubungan dengan konstruk dirinya. Dirinya seperti sebuah pernyataan verbal dalam formasi diskursif Michel Foucault. ‘Ia sendirinya bukan sebuah unit, tapi sebuah fungsi yang melintasi domain berbagai struktur dan unitas-unitas yang mungkin, dan yang menguakkan mereka, dengan muatan konkret, dalam waktu dan ruang.’

Badiou menyebut bahwa ada tiga metode menilai sebuah film. Satu, menilai film secara suka dan tidak suka, seperti menafsir cuaca. Ini dianggapnya sebuah penilaian tidak jelas (indistinct judgement). Dua, lewat metode penilaian diacritic (penilaian kritis memilah setiap aspek film dari narasi, penokohan hingga musik) Tiga, penilaian aksiomatis. Yang pertama baginya sebuah penilaian relatifis, karena tidak melekatkan sang pencipta pada lencananya (emblem). Sedangkan penilaian diacritic tidak membawa sebuah nilai berarti karena berkisar dalam jeratan sirkular film (teknik, tema narasi, penokohan dll), bukan kesejatiannya. Pilihan ketiga, sebagai penawarannya, adalah sebuah komiten yang tidak peduli pada penilaian tapi lebih pada efek-efek dari dampak pikiran sebuah film. Baginya formalitas film itu sendiri hanya direferensi bila ia mengupas modus Ide yang melintas dalam film sampai ke sentuhannya dan asalinya dalam impuritas. “Konsekwensinya”, aku Badiou, “adalah kemungkinan untuk memikirkan puisi-pikiran yang melintas sebuah Ide – bukan sebagai sebuah pencacahan namun sebuah pemahaman melalui kehilangan.” Dengan demikian sebuah film, menurutnya, bisa diselamatkan dari ‘kelupaan dalam kepuasan”.

Percakapan keempat sutradara di atas adalah sebuah titik berangkat menuju sebuah apresiasi film. Dari rongga kesenjangan percakapan mereka, setiap subtraksi menampilkan sebuah lokus dan setiap seruan sebuah topologi. Ketidakserupaan (dissemblance) dan kesenjangan (discrepancy) selalu terbesit dalam sebuah pergelutan seni. Mereka disebut oleh Lacan sebagai ‘penanda-penanda ganjil’ dalam tubuh jouissance. Keberadaan jejak-jejak ini memungkinkan sebuah perhitungan satu per satu bisa dilakukan kembali di persimpangan kebuntuan yang tak terhingga.

Tulisan ini dimuat di majalah film Moviegoers edisi April 2011

From Books to Films:Quality literature continues to lose out to how-to manuals and trashy novels

Richard Oh
A man of literary passions
by Laura Noszlopy

Richard Oh is the author of three novels, numerous articles and writer-director of a feature-length film. His novels, Pathfinders of Love (1999), Heart of the Night (2000) and The Rainmaker’s Daughter (2004), deal with subtly Indonesian aspects of love and life. His articles, written for Jakarta’s newspapers range across subjects like technology, philosophy, the middle classes and sex. Oh is also the co-founder of the Khatulistiwa Literary Award (KLA), which was initiated a decade ago following an evening of discussion at a restaurant in Jakarta’s Jalan Veteran with Takashi Ichiki (then the Director of the Plaza Senayan mall in Jakarta), the writer Danarto, poet Sutardji Calzioum Bachri and several other Indonesian literary figures. One of its kind in Indonesia, this award is arguably the single most important award for young and upcoming authors in a country where arts funding is scarce and revenue from book sales remains minimal, due to limited sales and weak copyright implementation. Richard Oh, who was until recently the founder-owner of one of Indonesia’s leading bookstores and literary establishments, QB World Books, spoke to Laura Noszlopy.

Now that the award is running for its tenth year, what do you think can be discerned from the list of previous winners, and what can be learned about supporting the future of Indonesian literature?

In the early years, KLA was viewed with scepticism. This was due to its three-tier judging system and the fact that the jury members are sworn to silence and barred from knowledge of other members. Things didn’t get any better when winners of the prize were established figures in the literary circle: Goenawan Mohamad, Remy Sylado, Hamsad Rangkuti and Seno Gumira Adjidarma, for example. But as the years passed and the new generation of writers started to win the prizes – people such as Joko Pinurbo, Linda Christanti, Acep Zamzam Noer, F. Rahardi and Sindu Putra – the KLA gained the respect that it truly deserves as a literary award that critically selects its winners each year. It has in a sense established itself as a benchmark of Indonesian literary trends and achievements. That said, the state of Indonesian literature remains entrenched in its own limitations, even after ten years of Khatulistiwa. The main sponsors are still major expatriate corporations such as Honda, Secure Parking and Mont Blanc. Without these corporations, the award would not survive. Literature, like most things cultural, is not seriously supported by the government here. The politicians only talk about writers and artists when they are on the campaign trail.

Where do you think the future of books and publishing lies in Indonesia? What efforts are being made to encourage literacy and a love of books and literature among Indonesia’s children and young people?

I truly believe that Indonesian children, like children all over the world, love reading and being told tales. All we need are easily accessible libraries. Libraries today are too poorly stocked and not designed to attract the reading public. We are fortunate to have a handful of passionate individuals who, through dedication and perseverance, have established a network of reading services for children and youth from poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city. Ironically book publishing in this country is flourishing, albeit in a flagging economy. But these publishers are churning out cubic metres of trash. There are heaps of how-to books, from how to invest in stocks, to how to operate BlackBerry cellular phones and translations of mega-bestsellers like the Harry Potter series, The Da Vinci Code and Meyer’s Twilight series. Most of these books are published by small companies that produce five to ten titles a year. Many are located in Yogyakarta and are run out of a boarding house or rented space by three to five people.

Does this explain why your wonderful bookshop and literary establishment QB World closed down?

QB Bookstores was founded on my passion for books and knowledge. Bookstores are too esoteric for a lot of people; they have become fossils in a fast-moving world in which electronics triumph over reading habits. This, and the inability of most Indonesians to pay Rp150, 000 (A$18) for a paperback, spells doom for any bookstore owners. It’s a losing battle. A sad fact.

Koper was released in 2006. At the box-office it was a bigger success outside your own country, despite the story, dialogue and actors being Indonesian. Do you accept this as a reflection of Indonesian attitudes to more literary genres or ‘serious’ art-house styles more generally?

We live in a country that still feeds on superstitions and cheap thrills. Art house or anything serious is likely to be condemned to oblivion, or worse yet the creators daubed pretentious or downright incompetent. This attitude, I think, is prevalent in Third World countries in which entertainment generally means slapstick comedies and ludicrous horror shows. Commercialism, in the end, triumphs since audience tastes are very predictable and not at all complicated.

Will you tell me about your current film script? How does it develop from Koper? And have you shaped anything in it to deliberately attract an Indonesian rather than foreign audience?

I’m afraid I’m pretty stubborn on what I want to achieve. This new film script is about a girl in Singkawang born out of wedlock to a mother from Padang and a Chinese father. The man she believed to be her father turns out not to be. The girl, Meta, is held in captivity by traffickers. In her cell, in a metaphysical moment, she somehow reunites with the man she considered her father. The tentative title for the film is metaWorld. It is, I suppose, a film designed for the international film festival circuit.

What are your future plans? Will you be returning to the novel form or exploring different media?

I’m exploring the medium of film at this juncture in my life. On the side, I’m still writing a novel that has so far progressed very slowly. My last novel was published in 2004! Maybe deep down, I have a suspicion that books are soon to be irrelevant. Maybe iPad will change everything, and writers will be set free from quirky publishers who are bent on publishing the next trashy novel. In any case, for me, to have an audience of ten or ten thousand is not as important as sharing the story in the most creative way possible.

Laura Noszlopy ( is Honorary Research Associate at Royal Holloway, University of London and a member of Inside Indonesia’s editorial team. Richard Oh ( is an author and filmmaker, based in Jakarta.

Inside Indonesia 102: Oct-Dec 2010