Delving Deeper into ‘The Lost Suitcase’

Cynthia Webb, Contributor, Gold Coast, Australia

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Sun, 11/04/2007

On 9th November, “”The Lost Suitcase”” (“”Koper””) will have it’s European premiere, in France’s second largest city, Lyon. It will be in competition at the thirteenth Festival of Cinema and Culture of Asia, from 6th through to 11th November. It will be the only Indonesian film in the festival this year. Nia Dinata’s “”Love For Share”” (“”Berbagi Suami””) has previously been a big success in the same festival.

Richard Oh, the director of the movie has a great admiration for European cinema, past and present, and so this will be a satisfying moment for him. The movie has been subtitled into French. Let’s hope nothing has been lost in translation, from Bahasa Indonesia, to English, to French.

The `scout’ for the French festival, Etienne Dessasut, who invited Richard to submit the film, very much admired “”The Lost Suitcase”” when he saw it at the Singapore Film Festival earlier this year.

“”Good screenplay, subtle characters, acute and yet tender sarcasms and views of social issues, nice photography, good acting, interesting twists. This is a great first movie.””

Jean-Pierre Gimenez, the Director of the festival says about “The Lost Suitcase” – ‘It illustrates perfectly, what we show, and want to show in the coming years, about Asian cinema -talent, a spirit of innovation, an intelligent film, well shot and well written.’

Indonesian director Riri Riza said “The Lost Suitcase” has travelled well. It was first screened in Yogyakarta at the 2006 NETPAC Film Festival, then at Singapore, Bangkok, and Hong Kong Film Festivals of 2007, also at the “Bite the Mango” Film Festival, in the UK and now Lyon’s Asian Film Festival.

“”The Lost Suitcase”” has had a checkered career in Indonesia, not really succeeding at the box office, being under-appreciated, by audiences who are more accustomed to horror and ghost films, romantic teen flicks and Hollywood blockbusters, than multi-layered and satirical art house-style films, with spiritual messages woven through.

Yes, it’s quite an ambitious movie. If we unpack this suitcase we find its contents are intriguing: existential/spiritual ideas, social satire, questions about materialism, dark comedy, symbolism and metaphorical references, investigation of human relationships and lack of meaning in modern life, nostalgic music from old times when perhaps things were less confusing, and homage to European cinema.

The suitcase seemed symbolic of so much emotional and conditioned `baggage’ that we carry with us throughout our lives, some of which would be best left behind, lost on the road of life, if we only realised that there is a choice.

The main protagonist, Yahya (played by Anjasmara) is committed to living to society’s rules, he’s become something of an automaton, but he has a rare high standard of honesty for a man in a bureaucratic position in today’s Indonesia. He’s a bit bewildered – it has all ground him down, life seems out of synch. But he’s still aware that there’s got to be more to life than this!

His spiritual journey is about to begin. He’s found a lost suitcase beside the road. He sees someone stop a car, leave the suitcase behind and drive off. He’s determined not to tamper with something that isn’t his, but to return it, although people around him are urging him to open it and keep the contents, which they all think may be the proceeds of a recent bank robbery.

Yahya’s initial unwillingness is a metaphor for our own resistance to letting go our conditioning, or looking into ourselves and questioning things.

When Yahya, at last finds the previous owner of the suitcase, the man is not interested. “I have never lost one, and besides, you need this suitcase more than I do,” he says as he serenely tends his orchids in his village Joglo home, where he has escaped the “rat-race”.

Now poor Yahya is even more confused, because he has not yet become spiritually strong enough to go beyond his own psychological life `baggage’. However, through sheer frustration he finally gets up the nerve to open it. In doing so, he looks into himself, and sees that all the ‘baggage’, which seemed so heavy, is actually nothing at all…nothing but an illusion.

He has also had some deep conversations about life with his barmaid friend, doing some inner work of her own (Djenar Maesa Ayu), which have led him into some light, and his wife (Maya Hasan) has left him after a serious illness. All this sets him free to leave the suitcase behind, as did the previous owner. But Yahya meets his destiny in that fatal moment too. Blinding clarity has come all at once and perhaps there are no more lessons for him to learn.

Amongst the serious subject matter are some truly funny moments, such as when Yahya is trying to build up the courage to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge, when suddenly another man comes along, and jumps with no hesitation. Yahya “freaks out”, and takes off running. What a psychological confrontation for him, as he sees what was almost his own fate!

During his efforts to return the lost item, the film satirically shows us some negative aspects of modern Indonesian society and it’s ironic that apparently Indonesians didn’t want to see that, or couldn’t. Only a very mature nation can satirize itself, and laugh at itself, and the British are the leaders in that field.

It’s true that “The Lost Suitcase” is somewhat drawn-out. It should have been shorter, and Richard admits that “”we could have been much more daring in the editing room.” Another negative factor was Anjasmara’s expressionless performance, designed to convey his confusion, which backfired because it also made watching him somewhat boring after a while.

However amongst many good points, the film had the delights of the old Keroncong Melayu songs by P. Ramlee, which compensate for a lot, and I found that it stands up well to a second viewing.

Writer/director Richard Oh says, “I was truly grateful and amazed by the acceptance. For me, whenever a film is entered into a prestigious film festival, it must have made the cut — met a certain international standard, by which one constantly measures one’s work. This for me is more important than anything else. International festivals are a true yardstick, to measure how far one has been able to carry one’s work.”

“After all, it’s my first film, so it is indeed gratifying to see how far it has been able to go up till now. I naively and sincerely had no expectation whatsoever, except the desire to make the film that had been burning at the back of my head for years.”

When asked about his plans for another film, Richard said that he had been writing and re-writing the same script for over a year now. “”I hope to be able to start filming early next year. We’ll see.

3 thoughts on “Delving Deeper into ‘The Lost Suitcase’

  1. tom

    I’m studying Indonesian film at SOAS in London.
    Watched Ayat2 Cinta pagi ini.
    Yeuch!
    Nonoton Koper malam ini.
    Brilliant! One of the best modern Indonesian films.
    Di mana pilem lagi lah?

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