Call Me by Your Name Review: A Hellenistic Interpretation of Infatuation, Agony, and Ecstasy of the First Love

 “How do you define your “first love” experience? Was it “fall in love”? or was it “fall in lust”?

By PicturePlay

Watching Call Me by Your Name for an Indonesian like me provides an interesting perspective, especially due to a recent event. It’s because this movie surges to attention in the midst of heated protests from some (well, many, actually) Indonesians, following The Constitutional Court’s decision to reject a petition filed by conservative academics to make a premarital and gay sex a crime punishable by up to five years in.

The decision, then, leads to an allegation that The Constitutional Court had premarital and gay sex acts legalized, which is not the true case. What makes the protesters have such an allegation? Primarily, they don’t possess the ability to read and understand the decision comprehensively.

I’m not going to discuss or debate the case any further in my review for Call Me by Your Name. But, there’s a point in my aforementioned paragraphs which also functions as a requirement you need to have before watching the film: the ability to read and understand comprehensively, and to have that, you need to: have your mind opened, and reduce your prejudice.

While the movie never shies away from admitting the fact that it portrays a homoeroticism story, the quintessence of Call Me by Your Name is actually about the very basic event in human existence, that I believe, everyone experiences it: first love. But the crucial keyword then prompts us to another question, “How do you define your “first love” experience? Was it “fall in love”; or was it “fall in lust”?

The chain questions don’t immediately come into our view in the early duration of André Aciman’s novel ecranisation of the same title. They’ll pop up right after the on-screen events end, but they are going to linger in your mind. Call Me by Your Name is so powerful that those questions keep lingering and lasting on your mind, even long after you finished watching it. The questions are not typical kind of ones that bring you into an intense debate with your colleagues. But, you’ll keep those questions to yourself, instead, since you’re the only one who knows the answer.

What makes Call Me by Your Name so powerful to the point it raises an emendation question is how the script by James Ivory and the direction by Luca Guadagnino in adapting the novel. The novel tells its story from the main protagonist, the older and mature Elio Perlman’s point of view who recalls the moments of him having a passionate same-sex summer fling with his father’s intern scholar, an American Jewish, Oliver, who was 24 years old at that time. The memory-piece and first person POV approach, as the main narrative is told in flashback using framing device, in the novel makes the story very subjective that we have to adhere to what he feels. Quite the contrary, the film adaptation uses the third person POV and sets in the present time that it enables us for being a spectator who’s judging what happens on the screen based on our own perspective and opinion.

It doesn’t mean that the book is less captivating compared to the film, though. The book itself is a delicate work and its choice of using the first person POV allows us to capture the intensity of being behind Elio’s eyes. And it’s tremendous. But the film lets us, as the viewers, to have more freedom in evaluating the masterfully crafted and engineered on-screen story and, for that reason, it ultimately deserves to be hailed as one of the masterful film adaptation in recent years.


In the film, Elio Perlman is portrayed by Timothee Chalamet whose masterful sensibility and subtlety in conveying his character’s sensual curiosity convince us that he is Elio. As a person who has read the novel, I’m so enthralled to witnessing how Chalamet embodies Elio so effortlessly with his juvenile demeanour in contrast to the mind of a connoisseur of his.

Here’s the thing. For me, Elio is more as an idea than he is as a person, a bright young lad who is old enough to comprehend complicated things, yet still, way too inexperienced to go through it. He still loves goofing around, but at the same time, he has an intimidating intelligence that makes him prefer the quiet sense of solitude. Imagine a barely 17 years old boy who is a trilingual (he speaks English, Italian and French without being worried of a slip of the tongue), a music prodigy and a very skilfull pianist with the ability to transcribe musics by Arnold Schoenberg, to improvise a Liszt-and-Busoni-like arrangement of Bach, and to make him more perfect, he happens to be a literature-smitten as well (he even brings Martin Heiddeger’s quotes in to a conversation!).

It’s Timothee Chalamet’s eyes that livening up the idea of Elio on screen.

His eyes speak more words than his mouth does in a single frame. While the skinny-long-waisted Chalamet’s Elio produces the spot on gestures as a sex-starved teenager who feels uncomfortable with his body and sexuality, his eyes deliver latent emotional spectrums, only a talented and gifted actor can do. Like when his eyes scan his soon-to-be lover, Oliver, with an intense curiosity; or when his eyes show the burst of sexual tension in a single glance.

Chalamet’s Elio’s journey to adulthood begins in summer 1983.

Elio and his parents have an annual summer tradition of visiting their airy-rustic villa in northern Italy. Elio’s mother, Annela Perlman (played by Amira Casar), is a kind and tender polylingualist housewife (she speaks English, Italian, French, and reads and translates German edition of Marguerite of Navarre’s The Heptameron); while his father, Dr Lyle Perlman (played brilliantly in a calmness and wiseness of an intellectual and a little bit of a teenage-like enthusiasm by Michael Stuhlbarg), is a professor who specializes in Greco-Roman culture.

Every summer, Dr Lyle Perlman has scholars to visit for six weeks and assist him in his work at his villa and for the summer of 1983, the scholar is, no other than, Oliver.

Oliver is played by Armie Hammer, an actor whose incredibly beautiful physical appearance is best described as an epitome of American hunk. Armie’s Oliver is tall, lean, blonde, smart, eloquent, articulate and athletic with a radiant and infectious confidence that will easily charm everyone, except Elio. Well, at first.

The very first time Oliver arrives at their villa, Elio secretly objects to the idea of sharing adjoined bedrooms, separated only by a bathroom, with the stranger. When Elio first learns about Oliver’s presence, he murmurs, “l’usurpateur” or ‘the usurper’ to his girlfriend, the pretty French-spoken girl, Marzia (Esther Garrel)—“La fille de Paris!”A colleague of Elio’s father recognizes her–.Although he feels irritated by the way Oliver says, “later” every time he’s about to leave to somewhere, Elio secretly observes the American stranger with curiosity as if he’s a Hellenistic sculpture.

It takes a nice conversation about the etymology of the word ‘apricot’ between Oliver and his father to win Elio’s heart. And then, they start to get along. They have long conversations, talk about philosophy and book and girls, exploring the little town together with bicycles, and even flirt with music with variations of Busoni and Bach. Oliver gets impressed by Elio’s prenatural intelligence (“Is there anything you don’t know?”, Oliver playfully asks Elio), but Elio thinks that Oliver is everything that he’s not.


Sure, the kinship builds. Slowly. But never dull.

And that’s what Guadagnino seemingly intended to. In a Proustian’s sensibility (the novel author is a proud Marcel Proust admirer), he patiently establishes a level of carefully orchestrated intimacy in the relationships between Elio and Oliver, to a certain extent, makes their existence more enticing until their deep-seated desire cracks like the cracked egg-shell. By giving Elio and Oliver the space they need, Guadagnino’s directing style lets them to breathe, to grow, and to become more aware of themselves at their own tempo, leaving us as the audiences to be a part of their story naturally and hardly feels constructed at all.

But it is Oliver who actually sets the tempo. Ivory’s screenplay gives enough hints of ambiguity and mystery to Hammer’s Oliver that, at some points, challenging our curiosity and then questioning his being. Oliver is portrayed as a mature man who knows exactly about himself (‘ I know myself…”, he says to Elio as the latter puts his hand on Oliver’s crouch through the pant on their first intimate physical encounter, or when Elio’s mother offers him to have more egg for breakfast). Although Elio is the one who initiates to make a bold move, at least overtly, Oliver seems to be the one who triggers Elio to do so. Like the scene in which Oliver gives the light massage and rub on Elio’s back. Or another hint the film seduces us in a scene which Elio reads a handwritten page inside Heraclitus’s Cosmic Fragments book—Oliver seems to leave that book intentionally so Elio can find and read it– that’s quoting Heraclitus’s epigram on the river of flux,” The meaning of the river flowing is not that all things are changing so that we cannot encounter them twice, but that some things stay the same only by changing

Oliver, through that note, seems to challenge and oppose to the old reading on Heraclitus’s Doctrine of Flux that interpreted it as “ we can’t step into the same river twice”. Did Oliver has the same sex romance before? Does he fully aware of Elio’s interest in him based on his previous experience and then decide to play a “catch me if you can”game?

We never know since Elio and Oliver are never seen exchanging words about their past romance. One can only assume that the 1983 setting plays an important part in establishing the reason why they’re (especially Oliver) being hesitant and holding back since the arrival of AIDS in 1980’s had helped to reinforce the taboo against male homosexuality.

But on the other hands, the seduction and ambiguity that Call Me by Your Name offer to us succeeds in setting up a more distinctive quality of innocence bravura of a harmless brief youthful-passionate and unfiltered taboo romance experience than Guadagnino’s previous films, I Am Love (2010) and A Bigger Splash (2015).

It helps, too, that this film features the erudite-aesthetes-bourgeois protagonists (the characters of this film recite and talk about Martin Heiddeger’s and Michel de Montaigne’s quotes, German edition of Marguerite of Navarre’s The Heptameron, to Heraclitus’s The Cosmic Fragments, to a passionate argument about Luis Bunuel’s works at lunch) with an extensive understanding of Greco-Roman culture that allows it to strip all the baggage commonly found in queer romance stories, such as social and religious norms restriction, as we see in the likes of Carol, Moonlight, or Brokeback Mountain.

Yes, the Perlmans are Jewish. And they celebrate Hanukkah. But they’re the open-minded secular Jewish who accept things and point-of-views not limited to their belief. Several times Call Me by Your Name points those things out in a subtle—or not very subtle– manner. Like in a dialogue between Elio and Oliver in a cafe, in which Elio says, “Oh, we are Jewish. But, we’re also American, Italian, France, somewhat eight typical combinations...” as he replies to Oliver question of why the Perlmans celebrate Christmas. And Elio also tells Oliver that his mother once said that they’re, “Jewish at discretion”. Or in Dr Lyle Perlman’s remarkably touching monologue as he talks to Elio after Oliver ends his summer internship and leaves them. In a brief, but unforgettable shot, the film faithfully recreates a moment in the book version, as the camera takes a shot of Oliver’s Star of David pendant from Elio’s POV. It then cuts to Elio’s facial and eyes expression that subtly shows his mixed reaction of an excitement to know that Oliver is Jewish—seeing it as a bond between them—and his doubt that Oliver’s religiosity will reciprocate his desire. Heck! The Perlman seniors even welcome a gay couple characters (one of them is played by the author of the novel, André Aciman himself).

The Perlman’s paradigm then allows us to see Call Me by Your Name as idealized fairy-tale of a gay-romance story. Even though a non-gay-but-sexually-tolerant parent or adult has been featured in a primary gay theme film before this, their existence is usually inserted in a film with comedy tone. For example, Arisan (Indonesia).

As demonstrated in I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, Guadagnino loves to have his films being presented with a high precision and detailed of sensual attention and curiosity towards his characters (his Desire trilogy have a poolside and “standing fellatio” scene); the textures and smells and intimate interaction of Italian life, even though they’re built out of his cinematic world that encircling his human characters, as if they’re incognito characters which not only serve a function as the backdrop for his story but also as a foothold for his human character’s development. Setting his story in a relatively remote Northern Italy, Guadagnino presents Call Me by Your Name in a sort of insulated utopia which his protagonists can develop an intuitive awareness of conflicting feelings and emotions to each other and, at the same time, explore their desires without fear of reproach and repercussion.


What makes Call Me by Your Name such an extraordinary achievement in storytelling is that Guadagnino brings his love for highly-detailed and precise directing style to another level, by incorporating his characters’ background into a recurring motif as the reason why a specific action is taken, not only as a backdrop or a gimmick. Guadagnino even uses his character’s background as the motif of the film treatment and camera work.

Call Me by Your Name opens with a collection of Hellenistic male sculptures photographs accompanied by credits and John Adams’ Hallelujah Junction -1st Movement. His choice of using Hellenistic male sculptures photographs for the opening sequence–the objects of Elio’s father research– is as the manifestation of his intention of unfolding desire, sensuality and emotion of his protagonists.

The Hellenistic era also introduced an androgynous aesthetic, especially in the sculptures. Greco-Roman culture is known for not seeing the concept of bisexuality as taboo and Hellenistic era continued how they saw bisexuality at that time, and it affected to how heterosexual relationships and the ideal male physical appearance was represented on their work of art. As a result, male Hellenistic sculptures became less bulky and muscular. They were also more slender, elegant and feminized. That’s why, at that time, the popularity of deities such as Apollo, Dionysus and Hermaphroditus gained more popularity and they were depicted as androgynous in sculptures. They still retained male anatomy, but they were slimmer and smoother, compared to sculptures from Classic era. Apollo was the god who often being depicted as an androgynous in sculptures because he was the god of music and poetry which were both considered as feminine arts.

The androgynous nature of male Hellenistic sculptures then draws ambiguity in seeing their sexuality. Or in the modern age, we’re familiar with the concept of “metrosexual”. This point is actually pointed out in a scene which involves a dialogue between Dr Lyle Perlman and Oliver when both of them are seen studying and observing a collection of Hellenistic male sculptures that Dr Perlman had discovered before through a projector. As they’re admiring the ageless beauty and ambiguity of what they’re observing, Dr Perlman says to the staggered Oliver that the sculptures challenge their inertia, “As if they’re daring you to desire them”. Oliver seems to be stunned by Dr Perlman’s words which are said hours before his first-time physical coupling with Elio.

Both main characters in Call Me by Your Name, Oliver and Elio, are not bulky and muscular in a way modern people of today see as the idealized form of a male physical look. Both of them are slim and slender. They’re androgynous. In fact, the concept of androgynous ambiguity was commonly adapted to popular culture in 1980’s, the era of the story was set. Well-known figures in popular art, such as Boy George and Billy Idol who wore a very visible makeup and pastel coloured clothes and kinky leather. Women wore broad shoulders clothes and tuxedos. In the 1980’s, they had a flirtation with the concept of sexuality and that’s one of the reasons why that era will always be fascinating.

Although Call Me by Your Name takes the viewers as the spectators in a relatively objective way, the camera frequently shots from Elio’s perspective in observing Oliver.

Oliver is more androgynous than Elio is and he carries the personality of, what we now call, “metrosexual”. He’s neat and more well dressed, compared to Elio who’s more “messy”, puppyish, wiry rather than chiselled. At one scene, Elio is surprised to find out that Oliver’s room—it’s used to be Elio’s room—now more neat and clean (“What have you done to this room,”Elio wonders”). For Elio, Oliver is like a Hellenistic sculpture who attracts his oppressed desire. The camera often takes shots of Oliver from lower angles, as if it underlines his self-esteem and his status as an alpha male.

It makes sense, then, that Guadagnino set Hellenistic sculptures as the opening of his film that also serves a function as an epigraph that summarizes the whole story of Call Me by Your Name. Up until this point, we’ve already learnt that the film is about a minor boy who’s in the quest for his true identity. Guadagnino uses his character’s sexuality as a way to reach the manhood and to unveil his self-faithfulness.

Guadagnino’s aim to recreate Hellenistic sculpture’s ambiguity, realistic, natural and subtle characteristic also has a significant impact on how he treats the film and the way camera shots its objects. Guadagnino’s d.o.p, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Beonmee, will work again with Guadagnino in Suspiria remake) filmed Call Me by Your Name in luminous celluloid (35 mm) that allows him being perceptive to the colour and sound of nature, as much as being perceptive to art objects. Mukdeeprom’s camera presents the nature of summer precisely by capturing and combining the colours of cerulean blue, cherry red, fresh apricots and limoncello yellow from the surrounding objects. So often, his camera works in a very Prost’s way by paying a hyperrealistic attention to tiny details like facial expressions, body gestures, the oozing-soft-boiled-egg, or touches. His shots position us to behave like an obsessive infatuated teenager.

Along with Guadagnino’s longtime editor, Walter Dasano, Mukdeeprom emphasizes subtlety emotional meanings in tune with the director’s obsession with the natural feeling of languorous mood. They create short scenes and abruptly cut them to another scene, but in each scene, the camera often works in a very Prost’s way by paying a hyperrealistic attention to tiny details, like facial expression, body gestures, the oozing-soft-boiled-egg, touches, or a specific line in the manner of an obsessive infatuated teenager. The combination of Mukdeeprom’s camera work and Dasano’s editing choice succeeds in creating the Hellenistic ambiguity that Guadagnino intended to.

Call Me by Your Name’s Hellenistic natural style is not only defined by its directing style. We cannot neglect the contribution of its sound editing that amplifies sounds and noises produced by nature, like wind, banging doors, water, or footsteps. As a result, there’s a specific quality of quietness about it. The sound editing is also smart in utilizing supposedly-non-diegetic sounds—soundtracks, for example– as if they’re being integrated with the narrative world. But, the sound editor seems to over-amplify Elio’ and Oliver’ speaking voices to underline their relationship.


There’s brief, but significantly pointed appearance of Heraclitus’s philosophical texts, The Cosmic Fragments, in Call Me by Your Name, and it doesn’t come up in vain.

Call Me by Your Name consists of chronological short-epigram-alike scenes , similar to The Cosmic Fragments which consists of hundreds of epigrams and short sayings, and each epigram in those material contains a paradoxical event that goes into an understanding that: all events happen is more about the world (logos) than just about the men (characters).

Heraclitus—whose teachings of the soul and logos represented a kind of paradigm for the Hellenic view of mortality—believes that there are a logos inside a human being and that our personal logos that provides us knowledge, and knowledge means experience and experience lead to wisdom. But, ones cannot assure that once the wisdom has been acquired, he or she will not go through the same process. It’s because of the existence of the greater, single-omnipresent-divine-logos that order, guide, and unify the process in a cycle.

In this film, personal logos is interpreted by desire, and that desire creates unreasonable urgency to do something. The concept of unreasonable urgency is strange for an erudite, like Oliver, who at first holding his desire back. But, in fact, the desire is behind why, “we can step into a river twice,” because desire will change either us or the river.

The knowledge that the main protagonists posses in this film, give them information that a kind of relationship that Oliver and Elio have will not last forever. Oliver knows it. Elio knows it. Elio’s parents know it. The Hellenistic sculptures and pieces of literature tell them so. They do observe, but their inner logos is the one who took the decision.

Do they regret? Eliot’s father’s monologue clearly shows that there’s no need to regret it.

Does the experience make them learn something and change? Oliver and Elio take a different path, and here’s the part where the decision to alter the ending helps the movie to become more powerful than the novel because the film refuses to teach us and it lets us to have our own interpretation instead.

The novel has Oliver and Elio meet again twenty years later in middle age, and reuniting. Meanwhile, the Guadagnino’s film finishes six months later in snowy winter after the events of the summer. The film implies that Elio has changed. He becomes more metropolitan in style.

Oliver also has changed. At least, that’s what we learn from his phone call to Elio that he’s going to get married. And it leads to one of the most dramatic ending in films I’ve watched so far as the entire movie is building up to this one poignant scene, as we see Elio cries before the camera and his eyes convey a wide-range of emotions that enable us to feel longing, anger, heartbroken, and being stranded, but strangely, we can still feel love and hope.

Are they going to have what Heraclitus’s Doctrine of Flux stated about, “step into the same river twice?” We never know as the on-screen story ends, we’re no longer being a part of their journey.

We only know that in an era when the significance and the privileged status of the work of art are being both questioned and reinforced, Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name becomes the ultimate monumental of the artistic achievement that turns literature about the infatuation, agony and also ecstasy of the first love, into the pure power of cinema.

So, how do you define first love? Is it “fall in love’? or Is it”fall in lust?”


Running time: 132 minutes

Production: A Sony Picture release of an RT Features, Frenesy Film Co., La Cinéfacture production.

(International sales: Memento Films, Paris.)

Producers: Peter Spears, Luca Guadagnino, Emilie Georges, Rodrigo Teixeira, Marco Morabito. Executive producers: James Ivory, Howard Rosenman, Tom Dolby, Naima Abed, Nicholas Kaiser, Lourenço Sant’Anna, Sophie Mas, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Derek Simonds, Margarethe Baillou.

Director: Luca Guadagnino.

Screenplay, James Ivory, Guadagnino, Walter Fasano.

Camera (colour, widescreen 35 mm): Sayombhu Mukdeeprom.

Editor: Walter Fasano.

Music: Sufjan Stevens.

Casts: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois, Vanda Capriolo, Antonio Rimoldi, Elena Bucci, Marco Sgrosso.



La La Land Review & Analysis: Five Seasons of Archetypes in A Technicolor Land

La La Land has five seasons and each season not only to mark an act, but they also serve as a theme for each chapter of Mia’s and Sebastian’s life which reminds me of Northrop Frye’s Theory of Archetypes.

In his book which was first published in 1957, Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye asserts that all narratives fall into one of four seasons. Each mythos has its own theme and consists of six phases, sharing three with the preceding mythos and three with the succeeding mythos.”

(The lego version of La La Land poster provided by @fbillys)

The world of La La Land is the world where contradiction, paradox, and irony coexisting altogether. It is the world wherein: conflicting elements exist in the same system; conflicting elements revealing a previously unknown truth; and a resolution that is opposite to what would be expected.

As a movie, La La Land consists of contradictive qualities. It’s humorous, but at the same time, serious; it’s uplifting, yet heartbreaking; it’s concave and reflective. It is a hundred and twenty-eight minutes of cinematic escapism that still gives you a taste of realism.

The story of La La Land is set in a place where dreams are built, sold as the main commodity and also shattered into pieces. It’s a place where hope could be turned into hate within seconds. It’s a place for dreamers who should be ready to be losers. It’s a place that constantly sunny and warm, a place called Los Angeles, Tinseltown, City of Angels, or a city that sells entertainment as the main business, a business with uncertainty and complexity.

But, it is the main characters of La La Land who bear the brunt of complexity. They’re a young woman and a young man. They are passionate and incredibly good looking. They live in the modern contemporary world, but their souls seem to be stuck in the old mold of the era when the originators and innovators were alive. They possess the demeanor of the golden age of Hollywood, but the time they’re living in keeps on going forward, not backward. Their idealistic world is based on nostalgia and fantasia, cemented on imageries of silver screens, vinyl records, and memorabilia, presented in the palette of Technicolor.

The young woman’s name is Mia Dolan (played brightly by Emma Stone), an aspiring actress who works as a barista at a coffee shop on the Warner Bros studio lot in between auditions. One day while she serves behind the cashier machine, a young lady–who wears a fancy and elegant dress–walks into her and orders a cup of cappuccino. She must be a famous actress or a public figure since other customers of the coffee-shop voluntary give her a lot of glances and a space to walk. Mia audaciously scans this young lady who, later to be seen, rides a golf cart accompanied by an assistant. The way Mia stares at her we know she admires this woman. We know that she wants to be like her.

One night after attending a Hollywood party, when she is looking for her car, Mia accidentally passes a small club in the downtown of Los Angeles. All of sudden she is hypnotized by a solo piano play. She follows the tunes and she gets surprised to find out it’s the same man he met earlier that day who playing the melody.

La La Land is a musical film, so it’s using music as the way to introduce its protagonists, music as its language to unite a lover. Their fate is bound by the tunes and melody. It’s the young man’s music that calling Mia.

The young man’s name is Sebastian: a struggling jazz musician, but not necessarily a crooner, since the way he sings the songs is more like a pop singer than a jazzy one. It’s the first contradiction I recognize from this film. Sebastian proclaims himself as a “jazz purist”, but he is forced to making ends meet by playing for an eighties retro cover version band (they’re playing songs from A-HA and a one hit wonder band, Flocks and Seagull). He thinks that the real jazz is dying and for that he plans to open his own jazz club, but he barely makes money. He compares himself to phoenix, a mystical creature whose ability of, “rising from the ashes”. He’s sort of a cultural snobbish.

Mia’s and Sebastian’s paths of life seem to cross, again and again, by some odd chances. La La Land clearly tries to bring us into a perspective that this is a movie about a dream. A beautiful and idealistic dream, at first, set in a place where all of the possibilities could happen to you.  It’s a hot and bright sunny day in an awfully long queue of the traffic jam on a freeway where Mia and Sebastian meet up for the first time, at the tail end of the opening scene. Mia is seen rehearsing behind the steering wheel of her Prius, practicing some lines of dialogues for her next audition. Apparently, she’s too focus on her script, she doesn’t realize that her car blocking Sebastian’s way in his classic seventies convertible ride. Sebastian honks impatiently, Mia gives her middle finger, and the rest of their journey is inevitable.

It starts in a mechanism of a rom-com movie, a screwball to be specific, a genre that originating in the early 1930’s and finally thriving in the early of 1940’s. It’s a genre of which the two protagonists first meet each other in a humorous circumstance of the battle of the sexes. Screwball comedy movies had their place in the era of great depression and war of which audiences needed an escape. The way Damien Chazelle, the director of La La Land, introduces his pair of characters is a nod to the era when motion pictures purely performed a function of escapism. It’s a reminiscence of the moment when Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Kathy Shelden (Debbie Reynolds) meet for the first time in Singing in the Rain. It’s also the first signals that his La La Land is aimed as a throwback to the very good old time of cinema when Hollywood was still depicted lightheartedly and innocently.

Through the opening scene, Chazelle has delineated La La Land with his festive idea of charm: presenting a massive dance sequence of the drivers who stuck on the freeway, emerging from their vehicles, displaying a variety of ethnicity like a proclamation that this is the place for every person of color and race, they’re dancing and singing like nobody business, to leap and twirl between and atop cars in one gliding and swivelling faux-long take, choreographed by Mandy Moore (not that former teenage pop-star) with a fusion of ballet and contemporary dance. Shot on film by cinematographer, Linus Sandgren (American Hustle, Joy) with CinemaScope 55 camera, the grandeur opening scene establishes the film as a paean to old musical movies. It is also a statement from Chazelle that this is a movie about dreams. A joyous one. Or perhaps is it a manifestation of dreams for everyone who suffers boredom over a long traffic jam? Or is it just a welcoming act of a musical play?

Chazelle opens his film with a superimposed text informing that it’s a “winter”, but the opening musical number is titled, “Another Day of Sun”. Christmas Carol and Jingle Bells can be heard everywhere, but snow is nowhere to be found. It’s a noticeable contradiction, although its use of the name of seasons as the title of a chapter in this film has a greater purpose nevertheless.

Chazelle starts his story in “winter” as the first act and ends it, also, in “winter”. It indicates the circle of life, from nothing to something, from nobody to somebody, as his pair of protagonist’s life progress and goes on. The creative choice suggests the structure of four acts and it reminds me of the using of month names to mark each phase of the story in Jacques Demy’s 1964 classic musical experimental film, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrella of Cherbourg). It is not the only homage to Catherine Deneuve starrer movie. Later, around the mid duration of the movie, we will see Emma Stone’s Mia writing a one-woman-show stage-play with Deneuve’s character name from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, Geneviève, as her main heroine.

La La Land has five seasons and each season not only to mark an act, but they also serve as a theme for each chapter of Mia’s and Sebastian’s life which reminds me of Northrop Frye’s Theory of Archetypes.

In his book which was first published in 1957, Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye asserts that all narratives fall into one of four seasons. Each mythos has its own theme and consists of six phases, sharing three with the preceding mythos and three with the succeeding mythos.


Right after the aforementioned epic spectacle musical opening scene, we are being informed that it’s “winter” in La La Land. According to Frye’s theory, winter reflects the theme of “satire and irony”. The process of Mia meeting Sebastian is ironic. They start it with a potency of conflict, even though it’s a cute one, as Mia gives her middle finger to Sebastian. But later, Mia accidentally falls in love with Sebastian after hearing his solo piano play and she ends up glaring at him with an intrigued look as Sebastian hits her and ignores her. This “season” also has a contradictive element since, at the first time they meet, Mia and Sebastian are wearing clothes with different colors, however when they encounter again with each other at the bar, this time, they both are in the same color: Mia is wearing blue dress, so is Sebastian putting up himself in a blue suit. Their color-matching dress-code is an indication that they’re made for each other and it’s ironic. Another contradictive element can be seen by how Sebastian and Mia have a different personal taste from the looks of their cars. When the camera first shots on Sebastian in his car, he is seen busy rewinding a cassette player of his retro convertible car.  This is the way how this movie has established Sebastian’s nostalgic, culturally hippie and snobbish personality. Later, also in this season, we’ll see Sebastian recording his piano play with a vinyl-recorder, instead of using a modern recorder. So it is understandable that Sebastian has no cell-phone. Mia is, another way around, seen riding a much more modern-designed car and using iPhone as a tool of communication.  The first “winter” in this movie also highlights the quality of satire. Here, we’re being introduced to their struggle for getting their dreams fulfilled in a funny way. We will see Mia auditioning for a role in a blue raincoat since her white shirt accidentally gets spilled by one of her customer’s coffee. Emma Stone’s performance is so excellent here. In a hilarious meta-acting chop, she plays her role before two casting directors as if she’s in the middle of a phone call with somebody. When she’s already in her emotional state, crying over her phone call, her acting gets distracted by someone who suddenly comes into the audition room and she has to have her emotion paused. On the other side of the story, we’re also being informed of how Sebastian burying his ego and pride. Wearing a fancy blue suit and black tie, he looks like Frank Sinatra and seems ready to play an acid jazz repertoire with his piano. But, eventually, he is playing a very standard Christmas songs as his boss (played by J.K Simmons) warns him, “No jazz!”. These funny introductions are a satire of how two people who live and try to make a living in a dream land have to deal with rejections.


It’s a season of comedy and it’s indeed started with a moment of comedy. In a pool party Mia, who wears a soon-to-be-iconic Atelier Versace inspired bright yellow floral printed dress, recognizes Sebastian who, this time wears an eighties look dress-code with a bright orange jacket and dark yellow baggy pant, is playing a gig and A-Ha’s Take on Me with a cover version band. Mia, then, intentionally mocks Sebastian by requesting A Flocks of Seagull’s I Ran to refer their previous encounter in a club at which Sebastian “ran away” from Mia (she also imitates the lyric in front of Sebastian in purpose). “Spring” in La La Land also refers to their blossoming love as they start to feel affection for each other and finding out that they have the same rhythm and beat. In a musical movie, the dance number performs a function as a way for its characters to share the same feeling through a dance. Here, in this season, Mia and Sebastian impulsively have a dance in the bright blue night sky which is also a tribute to a classic musical film, Singing in the Rain. In an iconic-in-the-making tap dance scene, both Mia and Sebastian show that they are attuned to each other. Chazelle uses “spring” and his nostalgia of Hollywood Golden Age era as the frame to show us the process of affirmative action of his characters love life. Mia talks about her fondness for classic films (Casablanca, Notorious, and a screwball movie, Bring Up Baby), Sebastian talks about his passion for jazz, Count Basie, and Chick Webb. Later, we’ll see Mia and Sebastian in white shirts having an excursion through Warner Bros lot, passing the set of Humphrey Bogart’ and Ingrid Bergman’ Casablanca (Mia is a huge fan of Bergman as we can see the big poster of her in Mia’s room)

There’s a cute tension here, though, when Mia admits that she hates jazz and this honest confession leads Sebastian to lecture her about the history of jazz while they’re listening to a quintet bebop jazz band at The Lighthouse Café. They’re seen being involved in a literate-dialogue in which Sebastian shares his fascination about jazz and brings the legendary Sydney Bechet into the plate. There’s a moment here when Sebastian points out how the quintet jazz band they’re listening to always offer something new in their gigs, although they’re playing the same repertoire each night. That’s the moment when I realize, as an avid fan of jazz myself, La La Land has so much jazz in it. One of the jazz’s distinctive qualities that separate itself from other music is the quality of polyrhythmic, the ability of jazz as music carrying multiple and contrasting rhythms at the same time. Despite the fact that its plot is built on classic and well-known movies, La La Land is able to define itself as an original material, not only because of the songs but also due to its ability to present itself in layers of contradictive and antithetical elements.

The dialogues between Mia and Sebastian here also reminiscent of Woody Allen’s movies, especially Everyone Says I Love You.

The season of “Spring” in La La Land also provides an iconic dreamy-alike pas de-deux jazz-ballet dance scene at the Griffith Observatory inspired by Rebel Without A Cause, a movie of which Mia and Sebastian watching on their first date. The spring season in La La Land ends by an “iris” editing style commonly used in classic movies bringing up the effect of whimsical old-fashioned filmmaking.


According to Northrop Frye’s The Theory of Archetype, summer is the season of romance and it’s time to romancing Mia and Sebastian relationship. This phase opens with a montage of the couple visiting some places in Los Angeles showing their progressively blossoming love life accompanied by a swing jazz instrumental music. The montage gives us a glance of the youthful innocence of inexperience. The montage includes a scene in which Mia in a pink shirt tap dancing to a live swing jazz music played by Sebastian and the quintet jazz band we’ve previously seen in The Lighthouse Café scene.

This season also marks an enlightened moment for the pairs to evolve. Sebastian realizes that he needs a steady income and he considers to take an offer from his longtime friend, Keith (played by a musician in real life, John Legend), to joining market-oriented pop fusion-jazz band. At first, Sebastian seems reluctant to join. I assume Sebastian is a neo-bop jazz musician whose conservative notions that the best way to save jazz is by keeping the genre pure and untouched by another genre. Sebastian’s hesitation leads Keith to open an honest discussion between the two of them, in which Keith asks Sebastian how he’s going to revolutionize jazz by being a traditionalist ( Keith cites Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk as Sebastian’s vision of pure jazz).

The conversation between those two friends is the moment for Sebastian to have his idealistic view revised. But ironically, this is also the moment for Mia to really believe in her dream and starts to pursue it.

The irony and contradiction are symbolized by the song, City Of Stars. When we first hear this song in “spring”, Sebastian sings it solo, questioning his fate and journey. In “summer”, City of Stars is being sung in duet. Emma Stone’s Mia tries to answer Gosling’s Sebastian question of doubt. Mia sings the song in a humorous and confident way, she sings it with more firm and assertive. By the time Sebastian sings the lyric, “ …Think I want it to stay”, he assures himself that he’s chosen the right path and the editing cut to the scene of him signing the contract and joining Keith’s band.

At the same time, Mia quits her job as the barista and totally pursuing her dream career as an actress. As “City of Stars” keeps on playing, we see a montage that showing the two lovers begin to separate.

The biggest contradiction and irony can be seen in a scene when Mia attending Sebastian’s band, The Messengers’ first concert.  The way Sebastian looks at Mia who’s standing in the crowd he thinks that his girl would be proud. But Mia thinks otherwise. She knows something has changed, something that would bring them taking a different path. Mia feels that she’s going to be just “someone in the crowd”, the song she sings earlier in this film.

Fall or Autumn

By the time we enter fall season in La La Land, the irony and contradiction between the pair are getting more serious we’re going to face the season of tragedy. Mia got her own one-woman show stageplay, So Long, funded. The title is also the sign for her to saying goodbye to Sebs. Meanwhile, Sebastian is getting busy on tour with his band. He gives up his dreams, Mia keeps on pursuing hers.

There’s a scene of two of them having a surprise dinner arranged by Sebastian in the apartment they’re living together, accompanied by their theme song, “City of Stars”, this time in a swing fast-tempo beat piano solo version. This is the time when they’re arguing over their dreams. It is the time they realize that they could not be together. It’s the time for Mia to say, “This is not home anymore”, as she feels that she’s fighting alone. The editing keeps on highlighting the big contrast between the couple by crosscutting the scenes. It’s also the moment we notice that Mia and Sebastian are wearing dresses with different colors. Mia wears a white shirt symbolizes her pure intention, while Sebastian wearing dark suit reflecting his surrender to the dark side of business. It’s like Chazelle subtly criticizing the industry through his characters.

But Chazelle also puts his story into a paradox, whereas it hints at a promise that the end of the tunnel is going to be bright for Mia and Sebastian.

Sebastian convinces Mia to audition for Amy Brandt, a presumably powerful casting director, whom he was receiving a phone call the other night. In the audition, Mia is being told that the film project she’s about auditioned for will be shot in Paris. It’s kind of resembles Audrey Hepburn’s classic movie, Funny Faces.

Winter (Again)

We fast forward to five years later. Now, Mia Dolan is a famous actress. She revisits Warner Bros lot and the café she used to work before. Mia is seen wearing a toned-down color and elegant dress, just like the women she admired in the earlier scene. Gone is her one basic colored-dress.

On the other side of the city, Sebastian has his dream of having his own jazz club achieved. By this season, Chazelle proves himself again as an avid nostalgist. But, this time he chooses to reconstruct the previous era of his own film in more ironic and tragic way.

Mia and her-now-husband accidentally visit Sebastian’s jazz café, Sebs. As she enters the café and reads the sign, she is experiencing a déjà vu. It’s like recycling the first moment when she first met Sebastian. But now they’re wearing dresses with totally different colors. They don’t belong to each other.

Chazelle offers an alternative story for the pair. It makes this film has a four acts structure. We see a montage in which the happier version of the story is being told. We hear the medley of “Another Day of Sun” and other numbers are being played to accompany the montage. It’s a dream sequence all over again like we previously see in the opening sequence. In a musical stage-play, there’s a part following the epilog in which all the casts show up on stage performing recurrent musical numbers. The alternative montage performs the same function as the musical stage play does, but Chazelle changes the order to create the maximum impact of contradiction, paradox, and irony.

The alternative montage is also the homage and tribute to classic musical movies, such as Singing in the Rain and An American in Paris.

But the real ending is the real gem, as it shows Sebastian and Mia now have a platonic relationship. They are now exchanging glances to each other, a very deep and meaningful long glance. It’s a glance that indicates they’re still in love each other, but they’re fully aware that they should choose different paths. It’s a statement that we can only achieve one dream. Sometimes we have to leave our past behind in order to succeed in something. This great, but smothering ending, is kind of a paean to Les Parapluies de Cherbourg and a 1927’s movie, 7th Heaven.

The Editing

It’s noticeable that Chazelle and his editor, Tom Cross, use a contrasting approach as the story goes by. In the first “winter” until “spring”, the editing heavily relies on “panning” and “invincible editing” to create the illusion of a long unbroken dream. This choice of editing helps the film to deliver energetic and frenetic pace, as these two first phase of Mia’ and Sebastian’ life are indeed like an idealistic dream. But as the story reaches the phase of “summer” and “autumn”, the editing is more fractured and the pace is slower. It suggests the message that the dream begins to fade and the characters should’ve stepped on reality.

The Performance and The Music

The greatness of La La Land is built on its two leading stars.

Gosling is excellent, tough and sardonic. He plays Sebastian in a way of convincing portrayal of a guy who’s adorable, charismatic, lovable, and miserable at the same time.

While as for Stone, this is her best performance so far. Her huge doe eyes radiating intelligence and they’re more shining when they’re filling with tears. Her Mia Dolan is witty, smart, and vulnerable at the same time. Together with Gosling’s Sebastian, Stone’s character without a doubt would be voted as the new iconic couple in cinema.

There are some irritating comments about how their performances are overrated. Some people are thinking that they’re not true musical stars with big-vibrato singing voices. The story of La La Land is the story of two ordinary people who live in their dreams. The musical numbers in this film is the way of filmmakers to portraying their dreams. Their imperfection in singing is designed to make their story accessible for everyone. To implying everyone could have their dreams.

La La Land’s music of which is composed by Justin Hurwitz and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (save for “Start A Fire”, which was written by Hurwitz, John Legend, Angélique Cinélu and Marius de Vries), combines and heighten ups of the old Hollywood musical with a realistic, nuanced, and modern look at everyday life. Every song in this movie is about character and story.

There’s a Michel Legrand’s DNA in La La Land music. Legrand is a legendary music composer and jazz pianist well-known for his long collaboration with French director, Jacques Demy. Like Legrand’s music, Hurwitz’s composition is able to marry jazz rhythm section and jazz big band with a full blown romantic orchestra. It’s also hard not to notice the heavy using of flutes to enrich the melody in this movie. It gives the nuance of 50’s to 60’s jazz music, commonly found in French movies. The result is memorable and easily hooked on music.

I have watched La La Land three times now. And I definitely will watch it again and again. A modern musical movie is easy to be found, but La La Land is an example of the movie of a lifetime.

It’s because the complexity of paradox, contradiction, and irony qualities this movie carries. It’s dreamy and reality. It’s nostalgic and majestic.

I’ve never remembered a quote about nostalgia in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris as strong as I had after watching La La Land. In that 2011 movie, Michael Sheen’s character, Paul, famously says, “Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”

Like Midnight in Paris, La La Land is a paean to the old time of cinema and culture. It’s a love letter to culture at its best, but also a very funny and heartfelt criticism. These two movies admire the past, but also warn us to face the future.

The title of La La Land could be interpreted into many meanings. The words of “La” in French means “the”, a word in English to point a determination of a place or a thing whose specific or well-known quality.

In jazz, there’s a technique of singing called “scat singing” of which comprises nonsense syllables, such as “ la la la” to give more rhythm to the song in addition to the beat. Like the syllable of “ la la”, sometimes a dream is a nonsensical thing. You may believe and pursue it, but you cannot let yourself be drowned in it.

That’s the beauty of La La Land. It may be a nonsense for some people, but it has a sense of adventure and endless charm. And oh la la, c’est manifique ! 


Reviewed at Epicentrum XXI, on January 10, 2017

Running time: 128 minutes

Imported for Indonesia market by Prima Cinema Multimedia

A Lionsgate release of a Summit Entertainment, Gilbert Films, Imposter Pictures, Marc Platt production.

Produced by Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt, Gary Gilbert.

Director, screenplay: Damien Chazelle

Camera (color, widescreen, CinemaScope55): Linus Sandgren

Editor: Tom Cross.

Music composed by Justin Hurwitz

Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (save for “Start A Fire”, which was written by Hurwitz, John Legend, Angélique Cinélu and Marius de Vries)

Production designer: David Wasco

Casts: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock, Meagan Fay.

Arrival Review & Analysis: An Understanding In A Full Circle

Language is the foundation of civilization. It is a glue that holds people together, and it is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.”

That line is quoted by Dr. Ian Donnelly (played by Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist, from Dr. Louise Banks’ thesis (played superbly by Amy Adams), an advanced linguist, when they first meet each other on a helicopter trip arranged and led by a US military leader, Colonel Weber (played by Forest Whitaker) for a mission to making a contact with 12 strange shaped unidentified objects contain a race of alien (which are later called, The Heptapods) that suddenly appeared in 12 countries on Earth. The brief, but keen-witted, scene is from Arrival—the latest feature directorial work from Denis Villeneuve, a French-Canadian filmmaker—a movie based on an award-winning science-fiction-existentialist novella, Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang released in 1999.

The first time I watched Arrival in theater, I was not automatically connected. I knew it’s a film with the tremendous level of techniques and details. I understand the movie, but I found it was not entirely explicable.

It was the time on my way home when I was struck with some kind of consciousness. The imageries from Arrival lingered on my mind and they were getting stronger and stronger each time. The film was like calling me to come back to it. Like the line Amy Adams’ character repeatedly said in the opening sequence, “Come back to me… come back to me”. It was like a plea, solicitation, and even a prayer. But, I didn’t immediately fathom what’s so fascinating and exciting about the movie.

And then I went for a repeat viewing, a day after I watched it for the first time. I let go my imagination, I absorbed the details, and the most important thing was I dismissing my ego.

And then that was it, the moment of enlightenment. I reached an understanding, in a full circle. Now, I don’t only like the movie, but I’m awe-struck by it. Arrival is a rare movie, these days in an era of films with futuristic setting misinterpreted as sci-fi, wrapped by the accountable using of science and knowledge. It’s a movie with almost no gimmicks because every little detail counts. It trusts our intellectual to digest and to interpret. It’s not only a great sci-fi movie. It’s a great movie.

The story of Arrival is the story of Amy Adams’ Louise Banks.  It follows her journey, a kind of spiritual one, to find the meaning of her existence. But, it ends up as an extraordinary spiritual journey that not only succeeds in revealing her fate, but also the core of human existence, through language.

I’ve read the novella on which Arrival is based. Although Arrival delivers the same energy and emotion like the novella does, the way it tells its story is unlike its source material. Arrival tells its story in the manner of non-linear orthography language. What is that actually? Orthography is a set of rules about the way a language is written including spelling, emphasis, and punctuation. Bahasa Indonesia and English, for instance, are linear orthographies since we write and read it from left to right. Arab language, even though it works in the opposite mechanism to English and Indonesia, also belongs to linear orthography category. Because those three languages have such clear rules about how and when a word or a sentence begins and ends.

A non-linear orthography language, contrariwise, has no clear guides when a word or a sentence begins and ends. The language of the heptapods aliens in Arrival is also non-linear orthography which is written in circular puffs of dark smoke produced by their tentacles, with no beginning or no end.  Their language has no alphabets or scripts. The creatures from outer space in this movie communicate with logogram, a collection of symbols formed a circle that can stand for a word, an entire sentence, or feeling. Since the aliens themselves don’t experience linear time, their logograms can put words in any order without changing the meaning of the message. Arrival gives us a series of information about the events occur in this movie like the logogram, as if it’s in a loop of Aristotle’s Theory of Causality, which is the beginning and the ending; the cause and the effect, and both of them exist at the same time. The words of “beginning” and “cause” represent the past, as both of them refer to the preceding events or the start. The words of “ending” and “effect” reflect the future, as they refer to the following events or the finish line. Arrival makes us experience its entirety of the thought, emotion, perception, and reason all at once in tandem with the past and the future, not just in an intertwining or progressive order.

Language is indeed the key word in this movie, a very powerful noun whose multiple functions, such: as a tool of communication, either written or spoken or using body gestures or signs or signals or even through a series of imageries; as one of ways of knowing (the others are included emotion, perception, and reason); and as the weapon, like the line quoted by Ian Donnelly. This movie even merges its functions since it communicates with us and, at the same time, provokes our ways of knowing through cinema as its language.

The concept of language and communication is even used in the attention-grabbing and emotional opening sequence montage which is accompanied by On A Nature of Daylight, strings quintet score by British composer, Mark Richter, which is also used in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island—that shows a brief encounter of the cycle of a young girl’s life, guided by the whispering narration by Amy Adams’ Louise Banks.  The way she whispers her words is like a lullaby, an apostrophe, and a sonnet all at once. She is questioning the concept of existence in a lyrical, forlorn, personal and motherly way. She longs for something and wants it to return to her belongings, something that she is meant to be. And there’s no better music than Richter’s in substantiating the emotional element of the sequence.

But what is it she longing for?

I used to think it was the beginning of your story. Memory is a strange thing. It doesn’t work like I thought it did. We are so bound by time; by its order…”, Adam’s Louise Banks starts her story.

The montage sequence whose structure like vignettes is a brief summary of a life: a baby is born, grows up into a young girl, and then suffers an unidentified illness before she finally passes away. It is the most emotional and heartbreaking opening montage only second to the dramatic Michael Giacchino’s waltz-esque score brought us to tears through the opening sequence of Pixar’s Up.

The opening sequence, shot in Terence Malick’s Tree of Life aesthetic, also shows an evolution of language as a means of communication through the speaking voice or the facial expressions: from the moment of happiness of a mother in welcoming her newly-born-baby; the moment of togetherness of a little child and her mother while they’re playing in a grassy yard and sharing some laughter; the moment of intimacy when the little daughter says, “I love you” to her mother; the moment when the little kid yells, “I hate you” angrily to her mother; to the moment of grief and sorrow when both of them are facing the hardest time of their life. The sequence shows us how language evolves along with the development of the brain, physical and emotional of the daughter with her mother, Louise Banks. But camera focuses its shot on the daughter, following her evolution in adapting language and expression as a tool of communication. The mother is her audience.

But now I’m not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings. There are days that define your story beyond your life. Like the day they arrived”, by these sentences, Louise Banks gets her understanding about what actually happens.

But, we’re still looking for what the movie is talking about as scene by scene goes by.

Louise Banks’ whispery voice over performs the function of the epigraph, which is commonly found in the preamble of a book or in a chapter whose intention to suggest its theme or even the entire of the story. Arrival is a Villenueve’s film, which means there are a lot of his cinematic trademarks in it. The way the opening sequence is being presented in this film reminiscent of Villeneuve’s cinematic demeanor.

Villeneuve is well known for his tendency to approaching film in the same way we write an article or story. In writing, the first sentence should be something that grabs the reader’s attention. Villenueve uses his first scenes or sequences to establish a tone and draw in audiences immediately. Or in literature we call it epigraph. Typically, his opening sequence is very important in the context of the entire film, but the real meaning or value of it is not always apparent or obvious until much later.

In his Enemy (2013) — coincidentally resembles the theme of alien encounters –, for instance, opens with a line that functions as the epigraph from Jose Saramago’s The Double, the novel on which the movie is based.

Chaos is order, yet undeciphered”

The epigraph in Enemy actually suggests that there are some senses of clues of it if we only know how it can be deciphered. The opening line, then, is followed by an intriguing and provoking scene, which takes place at a sex show, the kind of show we also find in Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden. Later, in the same scene, we see our first spider (I assume it’s a black widow spider), crawling out of a golden shiny tray and then we see a lady’s foot is about to step on it, intentionally and consciously. For you who have already watched Enemy will understand the connection between the epigraph, the opening scene, and the mind-blowing ending.

The aforementioned illustration exemplifies how Villeneuve utilizes his opening scenes to hint at a reoccurring theme and message in his films.

Arrival is no exception.

His preference for maximizing the technique of editing mixes up the conscious with the subconscious in his narrative. He unfurls the underlying message in dialogues or unexpected extreme close-up shots on, we might think at first, a random object. Villeneuve also often features music or score while the camera gradually tracks away from a scenic shot into a more structured one, by alternating shots with contrasting ones in order to bring audiences into a forced perspective. Without context, his creative decision would get audiences confused, but he combines it with music, cinematography, camera movement, and facial expressions on the actor to make a powerful statement. The result is, instead of being disoriented, audiences will anticipate many important aspects to come throughout the entire of the movie, because Villeneuve’s opening scene establish important aspects of his films such as setting, the topic, and the tone. In short, every little detail in his film counts.

Another Villeneuve’s signature technique we can find in Arrival is the exertion of mystery. He always purposely restricts the perspective of his films to his main character(s) to create a puzzle. With this set-up, his characters are searching for the answers, and so are the audiences. This set-up also helps to bring a twist forth at the end of the story, where, if we once reach the end of the story, we would get the comprehensive understanding about the previous events shown in the opening sequence. It means that most of Villeneuve’s films have a full cycle.

The camera works by Bradford Young (cinematographer for Selma, A Most Violent Year) is brilliant here. He uses Amy Adams’ face as a canvas of observation, continuing Villeneuve’s cinematic traces, and inviting us to study her contour of emotions.

There’s a riveting scene in Arrival of which showing why Amy Adams, 5 times Oscar nominees, is the perfect actor for the leading cast in this movie. The scene is when Adams’ Louise Banks and her students first finding out about aliens encounter. One of her students asks her to turn the screen into television as breaking news program reporting the unusual events. In typical using of news footages in films, the camera will shoot the television. But, in Arrival, Young’s camera chooses to observe Louise Banks’ reaction and put her in a separate blocking with her students while the voice of news anchor is echoing and giving us the information, but also isolating her character. We can see how Louise Banks as a respected linguist absorbs the information and digests it through Amy Adams interpretation.

The scene continues Villeneuve’s tradition of shooting his main character in isolation shots. Before the aforementioned scene, Young’s camera follows Louise Banks as she enters the campus where she is lecturing. She walks straight and adamantly, even she is passing through some boisterous and curious crowds who are watching breaking-news programs. The camera isolates her from the crowd to indicate that she is a very focus lady. She once looks toward the crowds, shows some curiosity, but she keeps on walking to her class. This series of isolation shots establish Louise Banks’ character status, that later on, be revealed in a conversation.

Arrival is a compact and elegant film. Its pace is slow, as it unveils its mystery steadily. This movie builds the conflict and tension through communication, debates, and arguments surrounding the meaning of heptapods’ writings. The conflict is based on “lost in translation”. This movie is also involving a geopolitics issue, like we once saw in Eye in the Sky, as the heptapods landed on 12 different countries. Audiences who expect some spectacled combats between aliens and humans will get disappointed. But, once again, this movie is aimed as the nutrition for your brain, not only as a feast to your eyes.

I’m intrigued by how the heptapods space crafts are designed. These 1500 feet black monolith-alike space crafts resemble sloping half-ovals (a line and a circle at once) and each spacecraft is a detached entity. They’re like 12 separated-pieces waiting to be united. The number of 12 symbolizes the time. The clock which has the form of a full circle. In my theory, those 12 spacecrafts represent a variety of big cultures on Earth and together they will form an enormous full circle. Like the mechanism of time that always repeating itself or like the heptapods’ language, or like the structure of this movie.

I read this insightful book, The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain, in which Terence Deacon noted, “In this context, then, consider the case of human language. It is one of the most distinctive behavioral adaptations on the planet. Languages evolved in only one species, in only one way, without precedent, except in the most general sense. And the difference between languages and all other natural modes of communicating are vast,”

Arrival provokes the same topic as Deacon’s book implies. The main idea is questioning the concept of language to influence someone’s behavior and personality, mannerly or culturally, by which one changes his/her pattern of action to better suits the new environment.

I speak fluently in three languages: Indonesia, as my native language; English, the language I started speaking when I was 10 years old; and French, the language I started to learn when I was 14 years old. I rarely use it on a daily basis, but French influences how I interpret art and food, as my fascination for French began to develop since I attended a ballet class in my childhood.

I feel that my personality can be split into three different cultures and the way I express myself, more often than not, is only able to be channeled through a language only. For example, when I enjoy a product of high art (beaux arts/art majeur), I would use French to express myself. Otherwise, I would speak or write in English to express my ideas about mass art (pop culture) and I would use Indonesia to have a conversation about daily life, as the majority of my friends speak this language.

I also tend to sing better in English or French. But mastering three languages have helped me to understand three different cultures comprehensively. There were many times when I burst into laugh watching a French movie, while the other audiences didn’t laugh at all. My point is there is a barrier in language as a means of communication. The way humans languages evolving have their own flaws, as they require the speakers and the recipients to agree on every part of the process, including the interpretation which needs a whole understanding about the context and the culture all at once, instantly.

Deacon’s book and Arrival intrigue me with the basic question I once had when I was younger about, “What was the first human language like before it evolved into thousand of languages we find today? Is it possible that someday, in the future, our languages going to merge into one and universal language? A language sans frontiere?

As Amy Adams’ Louise Banks gets a better understanding of Heptapods language, she begins to envision her future. Does it mean mastering Heptapods language help her to be a clairvoyant? I’m not sure. But, in my theory, the ability to see beyond the time is a part of Heptapods culture and the way they’re thinking. Like when I got attuned to the French language, I could understand them.

My hypothesis is that the Heptapods intentionally making appearances in 12 different countries to seek for someone who can learn their language. As two friendly Heptapods, Abbot and Costello (they were named by Jeremy Renner’s Ian Donnelly after linguistically challenged famous duo), said to Louise that, “they need humanity help”.

This moment when Louise meets with Abbot and Costello without any barrier (previously they communicate to each other through an invisible wall), and the friendly Heptapods are finally able to transfer their knowledge without any hesitation from Louise. This is the moment when a language becomes universal. This the moment when Louise realizes that she’s able to experience the future while still living in present time, and the time she has to see her destiny and she apparently has to accept it as well.

This the time when I’m aware that Arrival works on a theory of linguistic relativity, called Saphir-Whorf hypothesis, a theory which proposes the idea that the language we’re speaking reflects or shapes the way we think.

A friend sent me a private text questioning whether the Heptapods performed a function as a deception to the whole story or not. I cannot agree, but I don’t fully oppose to his perception either.  In my interpretation, the heptapods is the trigger for human beings to unite as one voice, without any barrier. It’s a metaphor of an idea to conceive a tranquility and harmony using language as a tool, not as a weapon.

That what makes Arrival transcends beyond its traditional role of a movie as an art or just as a mass entertainment. It not only offers an idea but also a solution. It starts with questions, but also gives us the answers. All at once. At the same time, in a full circle.

Like Hannah, the name of Louise Banks’ daughter, the film purports to use flashbacks and forwards in subsequent viewings by the way of a palindrome. It carries us to feel the emotion, perception, and reason in order to get a whole understanding. Again, in a full circle.


Reviewed at Epicentrum XXI, on January 7, 2017

Running time: 116 minutes

A Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures International release of a 21 Laps Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment, Lava Bear Films production. Produced by Shawn Levy, Aaron Ryder, Karen Lunder, David Linde.

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Screenplay: Eric Heisserer

Based on novella, Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang

Camera(color, widescreen): Bradford Young

Editor: Joe Walker

Production designer: Patrice Vermette

Music: Johann Johannsson

Art director: Isabelle Guay

Casts: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Goethe-Institut Indonesia Invites Aspiring Indonesian Filmmakers to Make Short Films in Germany

“Mentored by Oscar-winning German filmmakers, Pepe Danquart and Bernd Schoch from University of Fine Arts Hamburg, this program is designed for young filmmakers to embark on a challenging journey to encounter a place and tell the story of this place in a short time.”

As part of the project “5 Islands, 5 Villages“, Goethe-Institut Indonesia and InDocs are calling for filmmakers to apply to a film program that allows five Indonesian filmmakers to spend three weeks in an appointed village in Germany to create a short film.

Mentored by Oscar-winning German filmmakers, Pepe Danquart and Bernd Schoch from University of Fine Arts Hamburg, this program is designed for young filmmakers to embark on a challenging journey to encounter a place and tell the story of this place in a short time.

Five German film students have completed this journey by visiting five Indonesian islands in 2016. The short films they created are very intriguing and daring.

It’s now our turn to take the chance and be bold!

The Process:

  1. Call for Applications: Download the application form here and submit completed application, your CV, photo, and links to previous works to before 15 January 2017.
  2. The Selection process will be conducted by Goethe-Institut Jakarta, In-Docs, and University of Fine Arts Hamburg between January 15- 31, 2017.
  3. 15 pre-selected filmmakers will be announced on February 1, 2017. Fifteen filmmakers will have the opportunity to join a 3-day workshop with Pepe Danquart and Bernd Schoch at Goethe-Institut Jakarta in the last week of February.
  4. At the end of the workshop, five Indonesian filmmakers will be selected to join the second phase of the 5 Islands / 5 Villages program, which will consist of

– Preparation before traveling to Germany

– 3-week program in Germany (April-May 2017)

– Post-production in Indonesia (May-October 2017)

  1. The five Indonesian filmmakers will travel to Germany. Their first stop is Hamburg, to get some orientation at University of Fine Arts Hamburg and also receive filming equipment for the time of their stay. After that, each filmmaker will be accompanied by an English-speaking film student/fixer to their destination village. The filmmakers will live with a German family during their stay in the village for almost three weeks. The filmmakers will conduct their research and production of their short documentary film without any additional crew members. The topic, the story, the angle, the design, and the production of the short documentary will be decided on the spot by each filmmaker. The production also has to be completed within the filmmaker’s stay in the village, as he/she will not have another opportunity to re-visit the village.
  2. At the end of their stay in Germany, the selected five Indonesian filmmakers will join a public presentation along with the German filmmakers from the first project phase to show the 5 Islands films and to discuss the journey of “5 Islands,5 Villages”. They can express what is most surprising, most useful, most unexpected, and most exciting about the experience.
  3. The five filmmakers return to Indonesia and finish the postproduction of their short documentaries in Indonesia (until October 2017), with long-distance mentorship from Pepe Danquart and Bernd Schoch.
  4. The films will be shown in Indonesia together as “5 Islands, 5 Villages”.
  5. The films will be promoted in a festival circuit and then community screenings.
  6. A DVD Box will be made for this project, and it will be distributed non-commercially by Goethe Institute

If you are selected, Goethe-Institut Indonesia will cover the costs of travel to attend the workshop in Jakarta and the costs of travel and stay in Germany for the prescribed amount of time. Some dates are still to be decided, but once you apply, you are committed to attending all mandatory workshops, otherwise the selection is canceled.

This workshop is an opportunity for Indonesian filmmakers to cross boundaries; both physical location boundaries as well as aesthetics and forms. It is a way to explore what beyond what is currently imaginable. The film program also includes exercises and homework that have to be carried out by the filmmakers independently in their own homes before going to Germany.

We are looking for bold filmmakers who are open to new ideas, sensitive to culture differences, independent and committed to the time required to attend the workshops, to conduct the production, and to complete the films. English is the working language of the workshop and the production, so ability in writing and speaking in English is necessary.

The program mainly addresses filmmakers who already have completed one or two short films in any form, but have not yet completed feature-length works.

About The Projects and Partners

The open call is part of the project “5 Islands, 5 Villages” initiated by Goethe Institut and University of Fine Arts Hamburg, which explores different ways of viewing periphery and distance, time and temporality through the medium of documentary filmmaking. During a first phase, young filmmakers from the University of Fine Arts Hamburg immersed themselves in life on five different Indonesian islands, some of them very remote, in March 2016. They were accompanied by young cultural anthropologists from Universitas Indonesia. The second phase of the project, Indonesian filmmakers are invited to spend a short time living and working in different villages in Germany.

The Goethe-Institut is the Federal Republic of Germany’s cultural institute, active worldwide. We promote the study of German abroad and encourage international cultural exchange. More information on the work of Goethe Institut in Indonesia:

In-Docs creates breakthrough programs that will improve the capacity of Indonesian filmmakers, improves access for Indonesian audience to watch documentaries, and connects documentary films to strategic partners that help the films achieve strong impact in the society.

The University of Fine Arts Hamburg (Hochschule für bildende Künste HFBK) is the Hamburg state academy of higher artistic and scientific education. With its wide range of subjects, the HFBK offers the opportunity to study for interdisciplinary artistic and scientific qualifications.

Cek Toko Sebelah Review: Rekonsiliasi Lewat Komedi

Cek Toko Sebelah adalah kisah tentang menghormati pilihan hidup dan memiliki sebuah gagasan kuat mengenai bagaimana sebuah potensi konflik horisontal dan internal bisa dihindari bila kita mau saling terbuka, membuka ruang dialog dan melepaskan egoisme pribadi. Gagasan tersebut disampaikan lewat bingkai sebuah keluarga Tionghoa yang memiliki kepala keluarga dengan pandangan hidup kolot yang dalam kehidupan sehari-hari terlanjur lekat dengan label, “setiap Tionghoa pastilah seorang pedagang”.

Ada satu momen di Cek Toko Sebelah, film feature kedua karya penyutradaraan komika Ernest Prakasa setelah Ngenest (2015), yang berhasil membuat hati saya tertambat. Satu momentum yang berhasil menggugah pikiran saya bahkan setelah filmnya usai.

Momentum ini ada saat Koh Afuk (diperankan dengan sangat sangat baik oleh aktor berkebangsaan Malaysia, Chew Kin Wah, My Stupid Boss) bersender di kolom tiang toko kelontong Jaya Baru miliknya yang kini terlihat kosong. Koh Afuk yang sudah lanjut usia, berperawakan kecil dan rambutnya dipenuhi uban itu terlihat mendorong punggungnya sendiri ke kolom tiang. Ia menunjukkan kerapuhan. Matanya terlihat nanar dan gundah. Air dan raut mukanya nampak putus asa. Dia lalu perlahan terduduk dan kemudian menangis dengan diiringi soundtrack bergaya balada.

Adegan itu hanya beberapa detik saja, namun merupakan akumulasi dari berbagai peristiwa yang telah kita saksikan di layar sebelumnya. Saya patah hati melihat adegan itu yang kemudian membuat saya teringat dengan ayahanda saya. Saya bisa merasakan kekecewaan beliau saat saya tidak mengindahkan harapannya, lewat karakter Koh Afuk. Saya ingin memeluk dia, menenangkannya dan berkata, “ Ayah, maafkan saya.”

Cek Toko Sebelah dijual sebagai film komedi. Judulnya sendiri merujuk pada frase yang menyatakan ekspresi pemilik toko yang menganjurkan calon pembelinya untuk membandingkan harga atau kualitas barang ke toko milik pesaing. Film ini memang menawarkan rangkaian humor, tetapi humor tersebut dipadupadankan dengan drama yang berhasil dieksekusi dengan baik. Menggabungkan antara komedi dan drama di dalam sebuah cerita adalah sebuah pekerjaan yang beresiko tinggi dan film ini adalah contoh yang memadukannya dengan manis. Saya tertawa karena mayoritas gurauan di dalamnya, tetapi elemen drama di film inilah yang membuat cita rasanya pekat dan melekat.

Buktinya? Adegan yang saya ilustrasikan di atas.

Bila Ngenest diceritakan dari sudut pandang karakter Ernest—yang memulai narasi dengan voice over-, Cek Toko Sebelah mengajak kita melakukan observasi tanpa terasa ingin mengarahkan pemahaman kita.  Observasi terhadap keluarga Koh Afuk, pria paruh baya keturunan Tionghoa yang memiliki dua anak pria dewasa.

Mereka adalah Yohan (kemudian dipanggil Koh Yohan, diperankan dengan penuh sensitivitas oleh Dion Wiyoko), si anak tertua. Yohan merupakan suami dari Ayu (diperankan dengan pas oleh Adinia Wirasti, AADC). Si anak kedua dan sekaligus si bungsu, Erwin Surya (diperankan oleh Ernest Prakasa), yang belum menikah dan masih menjalin hubungan dengan kekasihnya, (diperankan oleh Gisella Anastasia).

Meski dua bersaudara kandung, ada semacam perbedaan kontras antara Yohan dan Erwin yang membuat mereka terpolarisasi dan polarisasi karakter dalam penulisan cerita merupakan sumber konflik.

Yohan adalah pemuda yang memiliki darah seni dalam tubuhnya. Dia menyukai fotografi, bahkan menjalankan hobinya itu sebagai profesi. Itu sebabnya Yohan terlihat serasi dengan istrinya yang memiliki bakat dalam seni patiseri. Ayu bahkan berhasrat untuk membuka kedai kue sendiri.

Sementara Erwin adalah tipikal pebisnis dengan karir cemerlang. Dia baru saja mendapat kesempatan untuk dipromosikan sebagai pemimpin wilayah Asia Tenggara dari kantor tempat dia bekerja. Kekasih Erwin pun punya karir tak kalah cemerlang.

Naskah Cek Toko Sebelah konsisten dalam menjaga perwatakan karakternya. Yohan yang nyeni memakai busana kasual dan bersahaja, gaya bicaranya santai, berambut agak panjang dan memelihara jenggot. Erwin berpenampilan klimis dan rapi jali; gaya bicaranya teratur dan sering berdialog dalam bahasa Inggris untuk menunjukkan kualitas cita rasa internesyenel; sikapnya menunjukkan keteraturan dan rasa percaya diri.

Yohan adalah seseorang yang mewakili imej bad boy, sedangkan Erwin adalah perwakilan seorang poster boy.

Hingga suatu ketika kakak beradik ini kembali bersinggungan saat ayah mereka tiba-tiba jatuh sakit. Koh Afuk kemudian meminta Erwin untuk membantunya mengelola usaha toko kelontong, sebuah permintaan yang kemudian membuat Yohan—sebagai anak tertua– merasa disepelekan. Alasan Koh Afuk sebenarnya logis, karena Yohan dilihatnya belum bisa untuk memegang tanggung jawab.

Tapi kamu ngurus diri kamu aja belum bener”, begitu kata Koh Afuk kepada anak sulungnya.

Erwin sendiri memiliki konflik batin mendengar permintaan sang ayah. Karirnya sedang menanjak dan dia tak ingin melewatkan kesempatan yang dia peroleh. Lewat sebuah diskusi, Erwin lalu setuju membantu ayahnya mengelola toko, hanya dalam kurun waktu satu bulan saja.

Di sinilah konflik sesungguhnya terjadi. Konflik yang melibatkan ego ayah dan anak; kejadian masa lalu; usaha seorang pengusaha pengembang real estate (diperankan secara komikal oleh Tora Sudiro) untuk membeli kawasan tempat toko Jaya Baru itu berada; dan, seperti judulnya, (sedikit) konflik dengan pemilik toko sebelah.

Pondasi utama Cek Toko Sebelah sebenarnya adalah drama keluarga. Lawakan diberikan di sela-sela pembangunan dramatisasi konflik antara karakter utama, lewat berbagai celotehan, pelesetan dan dialog jenaka yang dilontarkan barisan para pemeran pendukung yang memang komedian. Mayoritas humor dalam film ini adalah bergaya observasi, jenis komedi yang berdasarkan kejadian sehari-hari atau fenomena budaya populer yang sedang atau sempat terjadi.

Pilihan kreatif menjadikan fungsi para karakter di film ini pun terbagi dua: 1) para aktor utama untuk menjaga intensitas drama; 2) para pemeran pembantu dan figuran berperan untuk menghadirkan keriaan. Pola seperti ini bukan hal baru sebenarnya. Kelompok lawak legendaris Srimulat pun menerapkan pemetaan karakterisasi yang sama. Karakter seperti mendiang Ibu Jujuk dan Tarsan berfungsi menjaga tensi drama sehingga membuat mereka terlihat lebih serius, sementara para karakter pembantunya seperti Tessy atau Gogon (yang biasanya berperan sebagai pembantu, jongos, tetangga, teman atau antagonis) bertugas menghadirkan gelak tawa di mana karakter mereka memiliki penampilan fisik yang eksentrik atau nyeleneh. Sama seperti lakon yang dipentaskan Srimulat, para karakter penghadir tawa di Cek Toko Sebelah juga nyentrik. Ambil contoh saja karakter asisten toko yang tak bisa menyebut huruf ‘r’; si pemikir (oleh komika Dodit Mulyanto); si kemayu (diwakili oleh karakter bernama Karyo); hingga ke karakter Astri Welas (scene stealer di sini), bos dengan tata rias wajah menyolok dan kekontrasan karakterisasi. Sama pula seperti Srimulat, film ini juga memiliki karakter perempuan cantik dan seksi sebagai kembang gula.

Pilihan untuk “memisahkan” fungsi aktor-aktornya pula yang membuat Cek Toko Sebelah terlihat memiliki struktur seperti rangkaian fragmen sketsa humor. Hal tersebut adalah efek dari usaha pemberian “panggung” kepada para komika sebagai pemeran pembantu untuk melontarkan banyolan mereka dalam mekanisme penyampaian seorang stand up comedian. Hal itu sangat terasa, karena meski ada beberapa figur yang tidak saya kenali (seperti pemeran karakter dokter, misalnya), guyonan mereka khas. Ada setup, punchline dan tag.

Akan tetapi Cek Toko Sebelah relatif mampu menjaga keseimbangan antara dua fungsi tersebut hingga terasa melebur dan menyatu, karena kebanyakan materi lawakan ala stand up tersebut disampaikan lewat dialog. Lewat interaksi antar karakter. Pilihan penyuntingan pun amat membantu dalam memadukan dua fungsi tersebut terlihat luwes dan cair. Cesa David Lukmansyah, sebagai editor gambar, memakai teknik invisible editing, match cut dialogue atau L-cut. Dalam beberapa shot terasa pula ada pengaruh penyuntingan ala Edgar Wright yang memakai jump-cut (sebuah pilihan penyuntingan yang biasanya dipakai untuk menegaskan adegan aksi) dalam penekanan materi komedi. Meski, harus diakui pula, ada bagian penyuntingan yang tidak terasa mulus dalam melakukan transisi.

Ambil contoh saat adegan di mana Koh Afuk membagikan uang pesangon kepada karyawan tokonya. Cek Toko Sebelah menggunakan lagu soundtrack (yang di beberapa bagian terasa mendapat pengaruh dari John Mayer) dari The Overtunes dan GAC sebagai pemandu emosi. Dalam adegan itu, pemotongan adegan dan lagu menuju ke adegan berikut terasa terputus. Dan hal itu bisa saya temui di beberapa adegan lain. Tidak sampai mengganggu kontruksi cerita secara keseluruhan, tapi bagi saya, hal itu amat terasa.

Namun di sisi lain, Cek Toko Sebelah juga terasa memiliki efisiensi sebuah komedi situasi. Ada kejujuran dan kenyataan di kehidupan sehari-hari yang mengendap di lapisan bawah cerita. Hal itu hadir lewat cara dialog ditulis dan disampaikan, serta pembangunan atmosfer dalam dunia yang dibangun Ernest.  Saya akrab dengan komunitas Tionghoa dan bagaimana interaksi yang terjadi di toko kelontong yang mereka kelola. Jenis interaksi antara pegawai dan pemilik toko itu bisa saya kenali di film ini. Ada enerji keakraban yang masih terjaga oleh rasa saling hormat. Seperti layaknya sebuah keluarga yang sudah lama saling kenal.

Di sinilah salah satu keistimewaan Cek Toko Sebelah. Kisah warga keturunan Tionghoa teramat sering diabaikan di berbagai film Indonesia. Yang banyak saya temui dalam berbagai film, kehadiran karakter Tionghoa hanyalah sebagai comic relief yang mengeksploitasi stereotipe ras. Seolah eksistensi mereka dipinggirkan. Seperti halnya Ngenest, Cek Toko Sebelah tidak malu dalam mengungkap jati diri ke-Tionghoa-an, tetapi tidak menonjolkan diri. Malah merangkul. Ada semangat Bhinneka Tunggal Ika dalam cara film ini menyampaikan kisahnya. Karena terlepas dari ras dan suku, kisah yang ada dalam film ini bisa terjadi ke semua orang.

Hal itu dikarenakan kerangka drama yang menjadi kekuatan utama filmnya. Cek Toko Sebelah adalah kisah tentang menghormati pilihan hidup dan memiliki sebuah gagasan kuat mengenai bagaimana sebuah potensi konflik horisontal dan internal bisa dihindari bila kita mau saling terbuka, membuka ruang dialog dan melepaskan egoisme pribadi. Gagasan tersebut disampaikan lewat bingkai sebuah keluarga Tionghoa yang memiliki kepala keluarga dengan pandangan hidup kolot yang dalam kehidupan sehari-hari terlanjur lekat dengan label, “setiap Tionghoa pastilah seorang pedagang”. Istimewanya, film ini tidak menafikan pelabelan itu, tetapi malah kemudian mengarahkan resolusi konfliknya lewat jalur komunikasi terbuka. Dan untuk mencapai semua itu, penghadiran berbagai karakter yang dihidupkan oleh aktor drama berhasil menyampaikannya.

Bisa dipahami bila ada pandangan bahwa karakter Ayu milik Adinia Wirasti disia-siakan dalam film ini. Padahal tidak. Adinia Wirasti sebenarnya merupakan kunci sentral dalam mengarahkan win-win solusi, meski dalam penghadiran yang sangat subtil dan halus.

Adinia Wirasti, salah satu aktris berbakat dengan sensitifitas luar biasa, juga memiliki peran yang sama di AADC2 di mana karakternya menjadi penyeimbang dan sekaligus pemicu. Di Cek Toko Sebelah, karakternya ditampilkan sebagai sosok yang tenang dan dewasa. Tipikal karakter seorang sahabat yang selalu menjadi pilihan utama kita bila sedang ingin berbagi keluh kesah. Setiap line dialognya disampaikan dengan hati-hati dan diperkuat dengan bagaimana gesture tubuh dan muka, atau intonasi suaranya bekerja. Dia menjadi sandingan sepadan untuk karakter Koh Yohan. Lebih jauh, Ayu milik Adinia Wirasti berfungsi seperti oase.

Di sisi lain, karakter Koh Yohan milik Dion Wiyoko adalah penggambaran karakter anak tertua yang salah dimengerti. Dalam konteks ini, Dion Wiyoko bermain amat bagus. Saya bisa melihat bagaimana dia meredam antusiasme menggebu dari karakternya untuk suatu kepentingan yang lebih besar. Interaksi antara Dion dan Chew Kin Wah sebagai ayahnya, terasa “menyakitkan”. Saat mereka bertukar dialog, ada ketegangan dalam keheningan yang suatu saat siap meledak. Saat momen itu tiba, kita bisa merasakan rasa sakit antar keduanya. Rasa sakit yang muncul akibat terlalu lama memendam gundah. Saat konklusi dan rekonsiliasi menemukan jalannya, saya juga sesak. Sesak akibat haru melihat keduanya bisa mengalahkan ego pribadi.

Naskah karya Ernest Prakasa (yang di credit disebutkan mendapat bantuan konsultasi dari Jenny Jusuf, Filosofi Kopi, Wonderful Life) seperti yang sudah saya sebutkan sebelumnya berhasil secara rapi menjaga pengembangan karakternya. Kita sebagai penonton diajak untuk mengupas, mengenali dan mengumpulkan kepingan informasi mengenai karakternya lewat dialog. Seperti halnya materi komedi stand up, Cek Toko Sebelah memang dipenuhi dengan dialog dan percakapan. Dan karena aspek itu pula, kemungkinan besar tidak dipahami oleh penonton asing atau yang tidak paham dengan dialog yang diucapkan, sehingga mengurangi sifat universalnya. Dalam satu momentum, saya melihat penghormatan terhadap gaya penuturan Quentin Tarantino dalam film ini.

Salah satu yang paling kentara adalah di adegan bermain kartu capsa yang melibatkan Koh Yohan dan tiga orang temannya: satu orang keturunan Tionghoa bertubuh kurus; satu karakter perwakilan dari bagian timur Indonesia; dan satu keturunan Tionghoa bertubuh gembul dan berambut mohawk bernama Aming yang selalu berteriak saat berkomunikasi dengan ibunya yang tak pernah diperlihatkan di layar. Seperti penggambaran hubungan antara karakter Howard Wolowitz dan ibunya di serial komedi The Big Bang Theory.

Dalam adegan itu, keempat karakter ini bermain kartu sembari mengobrol ngalor-ngidul tentang hal remeh temeh. Seperti obrolan mengenai perbedaan perspektif mereka tentang apakah tomat dan mentimun itu termasuk golongan buah atau sayur. Adegan ini berfungsi sebagai intermezzo, tetapi juga dipakai sebagai framing device untuk menjelaskan hubungan karakter Koh Yohan dengan keluarganya. Mengingatkan saya kepada dialog di film Tarantino, seperti percakapan mengenai lagu Like A Virgin milik Madonna di film Reservoir Dogs. Adegan main kartu ini sangatlah kocak dan jenaka, serta pengaturan mise-en-scene-nya bisa dieksekusi dengan sangat baik.

Cek Toko Sebelah sangat kentara memiliki peningkatan yang amat signifikan sebagai karya penyutradaraan feature kedua. Meski dalam beberapa momentum terlihat kekurangan stock shot (terasa dalam beberapa transisi yang sedikit kasar), Ernest terlihat semakin mampu dan percaya diri dalam mewujudkan visinya. Saya tidak berani berasumsi apakah film ini merupakan karya personal seorang Ernest, tetapi dari energi yang disampaikan jelas film ini adalah buah dari hasil observasi sebuah topik yang dekat dengan kehidupannya.

Yang saya apresiasi tinggi adalah bagaimana film ini menghadirkan konklusinya. Meski jalan menuju ke sana di third act memang komikal (biar bagaimanapun ini adalah film komedi), konklusi berhasil menghadirkan solusi terbaik bagi semua pihak yang memang menjadi elemen utama sebuah film hiburan untuk keluarga, namun bisa menghindari jebakan klise. Amat mengesankan bahwa film ini menjadikan tradisi ziarah makam sebagai sebuah medium napak tilas dan merenungi jati diri, untuk kemudian mencapai sebuah rekonsiliasi. Sebuah pilihan kreatif yang juga berhasil membuat saya terkesan di film komedi satire Finding Srimulat (2012).

Setiap keluarga memiliki masalah, tapi masalah tersebut akan bisa diselesaikan bila duduk dan mengobrol bersama. Menarik untuk melihat lagu tema serial televisi lawas “Keluarga Cemara” (yang menjadi salah satu gimmick komedi paling jenaka lewat karakter Astri Welas) sebagai semangat film ini. Bahwa harta yang paling berharga adalah keluarga dan itu saya setujui.

Menggabungkan tawa dan drama, saya senang dengan keputusan saya untuk Cek Toko Sebelah.


Reviewed at Blok M Square XXI on Desember 28, 2016.

Running time: 104 minutes

A Starvision presentation

Executive producers: Riza Reza Servia, Mithu Nisar

Producers: Chand Parwez Servia, Fiaz Servia

Line producer: Raymond Handaya

Director: Ernest Prakasa

Co-director: Adink Liwutang

Screenplay: Ernest Prakasa

Scenario consultant: Jenny Jusuf

Comedy consultant: Bene Dion Raja Gukguk

Story development: Meira Anastasia

Cinematography: Dicky R. Maland

Editor: Cesa David Lukmansyah

Sound designer: Khikmawat Santosa, Mohammad Ikhsan Sungkar

Art director: Windu Arifin

Sound recordist: Madunazka

OST by GAC, The Overtunes.

Casts: Dion Wiyoko, Chew Kin Wah, Ernest Prakasa, Adinia Wirasti, Gisella Anastasia, Tora Sudiro, Dodit Mulyanto, Adjis Doaibu, Awwe, Arafah Rianti, Yeyen Lidya, Nino Fernandez, Kaesang Pangarep.

Hangout Review : Ngerepiew Sambil Nge-Hangout

“Sama kayak This Is The End, Hangout juga bisa disebut sebagai meta film atau metacinema, jenis film yang punya ciri: film itu sadar betul tentang dirinya. Eh, itu maksudnya gimana, sik? Maksudnya di sebuah meta film biasanya ada adegan di mana karakter-karakternya ngobrolin proses pembuatan film. Entah itu proses syutingnya, proses marketing dan proses-proses kreatif di balik pembuatan sebuah film lainnya. Meta film itu membuat penontonnya masuk dalam ilusi kalau mereka jadi bagian dari sebuah komunitas atau gang si filmmaker yang sedang ngobrol atau ngerumpi tentang kehidupan mereka sehari-hari sebagai sineas.”

Hari Kamis, tanggal 22 Desember 2016 pukul 19:00 BBWI (bagian barat waktu Indonesia).

Di studio 5 bioskop Lotte Avenue di kawasan dagang padat karya dan padat penghuninya (kayak lirik lagu Gang Kelinci-nya Lilis Suryani)  Ciputra Kuningan, Jakarta Selatan, penonton memenuhi jam keempat penayangan Hangout, film Indonesia terbaru dari Raditya Dika, seorang pemuda dengan jumlah followers Twitter hingga 14,7 juta jiwa (atau akun lebih tepatnya) yang punya seabrek profesi. Mulai dari penulis, komika, pembicara, bintang iklan, bintang film, hingga sutradara.

Penonton Hangout penuh hingga ke baris terdepan studio yang berkapasitas kira-kira 300-an tempat duduk itu alias sold-out. Memang di hari pertama penayangan film, kabar bahwa tiket film ini ludes terjual di mana-mana jadi bahan gosipan utama di berbagai grup, mulai grup watsapp, telegram (aplikasi ya! Bukan layanan pesan singkat tertulis zaman baheula dari Kantor Pos Indonesia), hingga ke grup arisan ibu-ibu (yang ini lebay, sih).

Penonton Hangout di jaringan bioskop ternama di Lotte Avenue itu terlihat dari berbagai demografi. Mulai dari ABG, pekerja kantoran, bapak-bapak yang sudah mulai ubanan, hingga ke ibu-ibu. Salah dua dari penonton tersebut adalah dua blogger film Indonesia yang punya ambisi nge-gantiin almarhum Roger Ebert (ambisi yang kelewat muluk, jujur aja): Picture Play (akun Twitter-nya @PICture_Play), berusia 20’an ; dan Vincent Jose (akun Twitter-nya @VincentJose), juga berusia 20’an, asal Surabaya dan baru saja menjadi bagian program urbanisasi ke Jakarta. Harap dimaklumi bahwa sebenarnya memang nggak penting-penting amat mencantumkan akun Twitter mereka. Pencantuman itu cuma bermaksud agar yang ngebaca tulisan ini segera nge-follow mereka (Oke?Sip!).

Dua blogger yang baru merintis karir ini duduk samping-sampingan di deretan B. Mereka nggak cuma nonton, tapi juga ngamatin reaksi penonton yang tertawa dan tampaknya puas ngikuti jalan cerita film. Si Picture Play malah sambil fokus nonton, sambil sesekali nyatet adegan  atau dialog yang menurutnya penting untuk dicatet di notebook-nya. Entah kurang kerjaan, kelebihan energi, atau emang punya ambisi terpendam jadi juru tulis di kantor kecamatan. Bayangin aja nulis di keadaan bioskop yang gelap-gelapan jadinya seperti siluman (ngutip lirik lagu dangdutnya Rita Sugiarto). Sementara si Vincent Jose matanya fokus aja ke layar bioskop. Sesekali dua blogger ini ngobrol bisik-bisikan ngomentari film, sementara penonton lain ketawa-ketiwi sambil sesekali ngemil. Dua blogger ini emang lebih milih ngobrol bisik-bisik dan nggak ngemil. Bukan karena mereka kaum intelektual, tapi lebih karena lagi bokek tanggal tua.

Singkat cerita, sampai filmnya habis, reaksi penonton tetap heboh. Pas filmnya kelar, penonton pada keluar dan lampu sudah dihidupkan, dua blogger film kita ini saling ngeliat satu sama lain penuh arti. Reaksi mereka seperti kaget campur senang.

Reaksi mereka kurang lebih sama.

Nggak nyangka, ya? Filmnya sesuatu banget, “ batin mereka.

—- 10 Menit Kemudian — (balik ke mode penceritaan orang pertama)

Gue ama ViJo lalu nongkrong di sebuah pusat pecel lele di daerah Kuningan yang gue tau emang enak sambelnya, karena si ViJo udah laper katanya.

Sambil di jalan menuju ke sana dan kemudian sambil mengganyang pecel ayam, kita berdua membahas soal Hangout dan intinya kita bedua setuju kalo film itu spesial. Sespesial nasi lesehan Ibu Gendut di pelataran Blok M Square.

Betewe, gue jelasin dulu kenapa gaya bahasa review blog ini berubah. Bukan karena pengen keliatan gaul atau sok keren (padahal emang sebenarnya pengen banget. Sumpah!), tapi lebih karena menurut gue gaya bahasa ini yang paling mewakili spirit filmnya, tanpa kemudian kudu membocorkan plot twist atau elemen kejut (element of surprise) di film ini. Selain itu pengen penyegeran aja sekali-kali pake bahasa non-formal.

Gue jujur aja nih, ngaku kalo awalnya gue underestimate sama Hangout. Soalnya gegara gaya penceritaan Raditya Dika yang sudah kebentuk banget, hingga pada satu poin, ceritanya udah bisa ketebak dan bikin jenuh *langsung-nyanyi-lagunya Rio Febrian (kalo istilah Enggresnya itu udah “square”). Bahkan kalo gue diminta ngebedain film-film Dika sebelum ini tanpa nge-Google, gue akan kesulitan bedain judul-judulnya. Terakhir kayak yang gue liat di filmnya Dika yang juga rilis tahun ini pas libur Lebaran yang judulnya “Koala Kumal”. Itu teteup film yang fun kok (senggaknya untuk fans dia), tapi udah “Raditya Dika banget nget nget”. Kisah semi-otobiografi dan lawakan yang ngolok-ngolok diri sendiri (self-deprecating jokes), tentang kejombloan, yang berakhir pada self-recovery. Nilai tata produksi (production value)-nya pun masih kayak FTV plus plus, yang salah satu ciri khasnya adalah kualitas antara para pemeran utama ama pendukung dan ekstranya jomplang banget yang kemudian gak naikin nilai filmnya.

Gue tertarik nonton Hangout abis ngeliat trailer pertamanya, yang seolah-olah ngejual film ini sebagai thrillerwhodunit  (atau kalau diibaratkan lagu itu kayak lagu jadul “Ai..Ai.. Siapa dia (pelakunya)?”) ala-ala kisah novel klasik misteri karangan Agatha Christie yang judulnya And Then There Were None yang sempat diadaptasi ke film jadul berjudul sama keluaran tahun 1945 dan film yang judulnya Ten Little Indians (1965). Masih banyak lagi sih adaptasinya, lo bisa Googling aja. Trus adegan di meja makannya juga ngingetin gue ke adegan di meja makan di film The Last Supper (1996) yang salah satu bintangnya itu Cameron Diaz.

Jeleknya kalo udah punya gambaran referensi cerita film pas mau nonton sebuah film, kita-kita biasanya udah punya patokan. Udah punya standar. Istilah kerennya “sudah punya ekspektasi”. Kalo pas nonton filmnya gak sesuai “standar” itu, kita bisa kecewa. Bisa misuh-misuh, bisa bad mood atau bahkan ada yang putusan ama yayangnya (ini lebay, sih). Tapi, beneran emang gak enak kalo nonton film yang kagak sesuai harapan di bioskop. Tiketnya udah mahal, belum lagi biaya jajannya (curcol).

Nah, yang bikin punya pengharapan ke Hangout itu berbahaya karena trailer-nya udah nge-set tone (apa ya terjemahan enaknya untuk tone?) yang berbeda dari kebiasaan film-filmnya Dika sebelumnya. Bayangin thriller cari-carian siapa pelakunya dicampur ama komedi gaya Dika. Kebayang, gak? Gak kan? Sama kok kayak gue awalnya.

Tapi, untungnya gue selaw pas nonton ini. Pikiran gue coba gue jembrengin segede mungkin, kayak buka jendela lebar-lebar biar udara bebas keluar masuk. Gue gak mau pikiran gue fokus ama gaya Agatha Christie itu.

Hasilnya? Gue suka filmnya.

Jadi inti cerita Hangout itu tentang sembilan artis beken yang nerima undangan misterius dari orang yang namanya Tonni P. Sacalu. Kayak judulnya, kesembilan orang ini diajak untuk hangout (ngumpul-ngumpul di luar sampe nge-hang). Tadinya gue pikir undangan pesta resepsi nikah, karena desainnya pake font berukir-ukir warna emas gitu. Ternyata undangan itu ngajak sembilan artis beken untuk ke sebuah pulau.

Nah, sembilan artis itu adalah: Raditya Dika, komika plus aktor segala bisa yang lagi kesulitan duit; terus ada Soleh Solihun, komika dan bintang film yang sekarang mandu acara tipi yang menurut dia nggak dia banget; terus ada Titi Kamal, ya Titi Kamal dari AADC itu; trus ada Gading Marten; Dinda Kanya Dewi, yang joroknya ampun-ampunan; Surya Saputra, yang kayaknya masih kebawa perannya di film Arisan; Mathias Muchus, aktor kawakan senior yang di sini kocak bingit; komika narsis yang kerjaannya bikin vlog dan punya logat Jawa medok, Bayu Skak; ampe yang terakhir dan paling imut, Prilly Latuconsina, artes mantan pemain sinetron hitzzzzz (z-nya musti banyak emang) Ganteng Ganteng Srilangka, eh Serigala.

Kesembilan artis ini dijanjiin bakal dapet duit gede, bahkan udah ada uang panjer segala, buat dateng ke sebuah pulau terpencil yang cuma bisa dijangkau dengan kapal pesiar yang jadwal singgahnya cuman 3 hari sekali. Mereka sih awalnya mikir kalo mereka bakal dikasih proyek film, meski ada yang ragu juga kok mau nyari pemain aja ribet kayak gini. Tapi, Om Muchus bilang kalo pas zaman dia dulu, juga ada produser yang modelnya kayak gini, karena emang kalo orang super tajir biasanya kelakuannya makin nyentrik. Jadi ilanglah keragu-raguan mereka.

Tapi, pas nyampe pulau, mereka kaget karena kagak disambut oleh siapapun. Pulaunya sepi pake banget kagak ada orang. Lebih kaget lagi (ini udah ada di trailer jadi kagak spoiler lagi), pas ada yang ninggal. Terus abis satu ninggal, ada yang lain lagi. Nah, kesembilan artes ini kemudian mesti nyari tau siapa sebenarnya dalang di balik pengundangan ini dan siapa sih yang ngundang itu?

Kesannya serius dan serem, kan? Padahal kagak, sumpe! Film ini ringan dan tanpa beban. Kalo lo emang penggemar Dika, masih masuk ke film ini karena emang masih Dika banget. Yang bikin gue suka, film ini  fun tapi sekaligus nunjukin kalo Raditya Dika itu cinta ama medium storytelling dan bisa masukin berbagai referensi ke dalam becandaannya dia, tanpa keliatan pengen dianggap pinter. Dika masih pake gaya becandaannya dia (karena kayak biasanya Dika ya jadi “Dika” sendiri di film ini); mukanya yang minim ekspresi; sampe kerelaan dia jadi bahan olok-olok.

Ada tuh satu dialog pas Surya Saputra ngecengin Dika ke Om Muchus tentang “akting Dika yang lempeng-lempeng aja mulu dari film ke film”. Jujur aja, apa yang diucapin ama Surya ke Dika itu kayak ngewakili (yang gue yakin banyak banget) orang-orang yang punya pikiran kayak dia. Gue yakin banyak penonton yang punya pikiran kritis juga mikir kalo akting Dika itu gitu-gitu aja.

Tapi, gue mencoba berpikiran “fair” (bukan Jakarta Fair apalagi kosmetik yang pake tagline “fair and lovely”). Cara Raditya Dika berakting di film memang merupakan cara dia untuk ngebangun imejnya sebagai brand atau merek. Sedari awal, imej Dika memang dibangun sebagai (menurut ANAlisis sayaaa kalo kata sentilan-sentilun) pemuda yang galau, suka mengamati, punya pikiran kritis, agak-agak laid-back, nggak sungkan mengolok diri dewe, tapi pas ngomong orang-orang cenderung akan tertarik karena ada semacam enerji magnetis (alah bahasa gue). Gue punya teman kayak Dika pas SMA, yang gak jadi pusat perhatian (malah cenderung jadi outsider kalo lagi ngumpul), tapi ada daya tarik tersendiri dari dia. Kalo ngebanyol kadang jayus, tapi ekspresi wajahnya yang konyol-konyol lugu tetep paling nggak bikin orang senyum. Tipikal orang yang memang susah buat orang nganggap dia serius, tapi sebenarnya dia serius. Nah, Dika tuh menurut gue tipikal orang kayak gitu dan dia gak tertarik buat ngubah imejnya, meskipun pas tampil di film. Kalo menurut gue, Dika itu bukan aktor profesional karena basically dia jadi dirinya sendiri di film. Meskipun saya gak yakin apakah itu benar-benar dirinya yang di film atau cuma “meminjam” namanya aja sebagai personifikasi, sedangkan karakteristiknya disesuaikan dengan kebutuhan cerita. Jadi wajar kalo kita (mungkin) gak akan nemuin Dika berakting ala “method actor” yang sampai mengubah gaya bicara atau jadi karakter di luar kebiasaannya.

Nah, apa yang diucapin Surya Saputra ke Dika itu ngingetin gue ke film This Is The Endnya Seth Rogen yang keluar tahun 2013. Di salah satu adegan awal film itu Seth Rogen, yang sedang ngejemput sahabatnya Jay Baruchel di airport Los Angeles, dihadang oleh seorang wartawan video yang nanyain dia tentang akting dan karakter Seth yang juga sama di setiap film. Wartawan video itu bahkan meminta Seth agar dia ngepraktekin cara ketawa dia yang khas banget itu. Gue ngeliat Dika itu (di film Hangout) kayak Seth Rogen, “aktor” yang sudah punya ciri khas yang gak mau dia ubah. Mereka juga sama-sama sering bikin film atau nulis naskah based on pengalaman dia pribadi, kan? Sama kayak Woody Allen juga.

Ngomongin This Is The End, Hangout itu sebenarnya make formula film yang ditulis dan disutradarai oleh Seth Rogen ama Evan Goldberg itu. Sama-sama make berbagai artis terkenal yang make nama mereka sendiri (bukan nama karakter hasil rekaan), sama-sama film komedi, sama-sama banyak inside jokes di kalangan selebritis, dan sama-sama banyak referensi ke film-film yang jadi bagian dari pop-culture.

Sama kayak This Is The End, Hangout juga bisa disebut sebagai meta film atau metacinema, jenis film yang punya ciri: film itu sadar betul tentang dirinya. Eh, itu maksudnya gimana, sik? Maksudnya di sebuah meta film, biasanya ada adegan di mana karakter-karakternya ngobrolin proses pembuatan film. Entah itu proses syutingnya, proses marketing dan proses-proses kreatif di balik pembuatan sebuah film lainnya. Meta film itu membuat penontonnya masuk dalam ilusi kalau mereka jadi bagian dari sebuah komunitas atau gang si filmmaker yang sedang ngobrol atau ngerumpi tentang kehidupan mereka sehari-hari sebagai sineas.

Hangout punya lebih dari dua elemen yang menunjang dia sebagai meta film. Kayak di adegan pembuka, saat Raditya Dika digambarin sebagai bintang film eksyen yang sedang syuting sebuah proyek yang terkendala masalah finansial atau pendanaan. Di tengah-tengah istirahat syuting (shooting break), Dika juga dapat pertanyaan dari wartawan soal kesulitan finansial yang menimpa filmnya.

Juga ada dialog antara Dika dan Om Mathias Muchus di kamar saat mereka sudah sampai di villa tempat tujuan mereka. Om Muchus yang coba jadi penengah keles antara Dika dan Soleh Solihun gara-gara kasting sebuah proyek film, ngucapin satu kalimat yang bagus banget, “ Film itu masalah jodoh. Film yang cari kita, bukan kita yang cari film”.

Karakter Dinda Kanya Dewi (yang di film ini diliatin sebagai cewek yang jorook banget), juga ngucapin dialog yang sebenarnya merupakan sindiran atau curhat dari para bintang film/sinetron yang sering dianggap benar-benar mewakili karakter mereka di layar oleh penonton. Pas Gading Marten ngecengin dia yang aslinya gak kayak yang terlihat di film atau sinetron,  Dinda Kanya bilang gini, “ ..Di depan kamera itu, kita penuh kepalsuan. Kita memberikan citra yang publik inginkan.” Menurut gue dialog itu cerdas. Bukan karena kata-katanya yang puitis atau dramatis atau apa, tapi dialog itu sesuai konteks filmnya.

Masih kurang bukti kalo Hangout ini film meta? Karakter Bayu Skak yang digambarin sebagai orang yang demen banget dan keranjingan ngerekam dirinya sendiri untuk dokumentasi vlog-nya. Di sini, Bayu Skak sering berdialog dengan audiensnya melalui kamera smartphone-nya, seolah-olah dia ngajak ngobrol penonton. Atau istilahnya breaking the fourth wall. Nah, salah satu ciri meta film itu adalah ada momen yang memungkinkan karakternya untuk break the fourth wall. Di This Is The End pun ada adegan kayak yang Bayu Skak lakukan. Saat James Franco dan kawan-kawan merekam mereka sendiri lewat camera video, tentang karakter Danny McBride yang ngabisin makanan mereka. Dan sebenarnya masih banyak lagi elemen-elemen yang mendukung Hangout sebagai meta film yang akan bikin jari jemari gue kena encok kalo dituruti.

Kalo yang gue baca dari komentar-komentar orang yang udah nonton Hangout (entah itu dari Twitter atau grup-grup percakapan di hape), mereka kebanyakan sudah terperangkap ama apa yang ditampilkan di trailer, kalo film ini akan menyuguhkan cerita dalam treatment ber-genre thriller dalam plot ala-ala Agatha Christie. Artinya penonton sudah membentuk satu pengharapan kalo film ini bakal penuh misteri pelik dan rumit, yang akan membuahkan pada plot twist atau pelintiran cerita yang bakal bikin kita teriak, “WTF!!”

Hangout memang menyajikan plot twist , tentang siapa sebenarnya pembunuh di film itu. Tapi, jujur aja, gue udah bilang ke ViJo siapa penjahat di film ini bahkan sejak seperempat filmnya baru jalan. Sangat sangat ketebak. Tapi, Hangout bukanlah film yang disengaja untuk ngikuti film-filmnya Joko Anwar, Christopher Nolan, atau Park Chan-wook. Bukan sama sekali. Hangout lebih sebagai sebuah satire atau bahkan bisa disebut sebagai parodi. Persis sama kayak This is the End. Bedanya, kalo This Is The End memakai sub-genre scif-fi apocalypse sebagai frame cerita, Hangout pake sub-genre thriller whodunit sebagai frame-nya. Hanya sebagai frame, bukan sebagai pondasi utama cerita. Karena selebihnya, Hangout, kayak This Is The End, adalah film yang dikendalikan secara “seenaknya” oleh Raditya Dika sebagai penulis dan sutradara, serta didukung oleh kegilaan para aktor di dalamnya. Jadi, Hangout  ini bersenang-senang atas premise dan frame yang dipakainya.

Sama kayak This Is The End yang penuh referensi dan nods ke berbagai film dan budaya pop, mulai dari film-film John Carpenter, film-filmnya Set Rogen sendiri, film-film Steven Spielberg, Harry Potter, ampe ke Backstreet Boys, Hangout juga dipenuhi oleh referensi.

Kalo yang gue liat, ada referensi ke film-film mo lei tau-nya Stephen Chow di era 90-an. Itu film-film yang dulu sering banget diputer di tipi swasta kita saat masih suka muter film-film Hong Kong malem-malem. Film Stephen Chow ‘kan dipenuhi adegan slapstick lebay, tapi kocak luar biasa. Nah, yang gue lihat, referensi ke Stephen Chow itu ada di karakter Dinda Kanya Dewi. Pas pertama kali ngeliat Dinda di film ini, gue bilang ke ViJo kalo karakternya ngingetin gue ke Sandra Ng, aktris kocak yang sering kerja bareng ama Stephen Show. Di film-film Chow, Sandra Ng sering kali digambarin sebagai cewek norak, jelek dan sering jadi korban buat adegan lucu. Nah, Dinda Kanya Dewi itu mirip banget ama karakter Sandra Ng. Sampai di suatu titik, gue bisa nebak kapan Dinda bakal kena sial.

Referensi lain yang gue temukan di Hangout adalah ke AADC, sinetron Ganteng-Ganteng Serigala, film horor Scream-nya Wes Craven, film horor I Know What You Did Last Summer, hingga ke musik yang sering pake cue music di film horror thriller 70 dan 80’an, hingga ke musik bergaya Baroque ala komposer Danny Elfman di film-filmnya Tim Burton.

Di salah satu grup percakapan, ada yang bilang kalo gue “overthinking” soal film Hangout. Gue sih gak merasa kalo gue overthinking. Overthinking itu, kalo menurut gue, adalah memaksakan berpikir secara berlebihan ke sebuah permasalahan (dalam hal ini film) yang kagak ada relevansi atau hubungan secara kontekstual ke hal yang dibahas atau yang dicermati.

Di Hangout, gue menemukan dan menyadari berbagai hal itu benar-benar secara organik dan natural, di mana gue bisa menikmati filmnya dan tertawa, tapi bisa ngenalin lapisan-lapisan yang ada di film ini. Dan menurut gue di situlah letak kecerdasan Hangout. Filmnya fun, ringan, nyambung ke penggemar Dika, tapi bisa dinikmati juga oleh gue yang kebetulan bisa melihat apa yang ditawarkan Dika. Dia bisa masukin berbagai referensi itu tapi terasa koheren ama dunia yang dibangunnya.

Salah satu kelebihan Hangout dalam membawa filmnya dari awal sebagai metafilm adalah bahwa kita sebagai penonton tak bisa mempersoalkan kesahihan logika naratif di filmnya. Atau istilah kerennya kita dibuat untuk memakan dan mencerna dispension of disbelief. Sedari awal film ini sudah ngasih peringatan (yang gak kentara kalo di mata penonton awam, memang) kalo film ini adalah tentang film. Dan film adalah ilusi, atau bagi Dika ini adalah mediumnya untuk bersenang-senang atau hangout dengan kawan-kawannya. Jadi, sah-sah aja kalo di tengah-tengah film Dika, Surya, Gading, Soleh, ama Bayu Skak main drama-dramaan Bawang Putih Bawang Merah.

Dan yang patut juga gue sebut adalah gue ngerasa kalo di film ini, Dika terasa hangout sama medium storytelling di film.

Dika sebenarnya gak baru dalam masukin elemen metafilm dalam filmnya. Di Cinta Brontosaurus, dia juga jadi filmmaker dan ada salah satu scene di mana dia ngehadiri premiere sebuah film.

Yang bikin gue bilang Hangout sebagai film cerdas adalah di sisi bagaimana Dika masukin berbagai referensi dan olok-olok dalam dialog dengan halus dan sesuai konteks. Di Twitter dan grup percakapan, banyak yang mempermalasahin pengungkapan twist plot-nya yang gak haluslah, nggak meyakinkan secara logikalah, en des kaw en des kaw. Tapi, plot twist itu sesuai konteks. Gue gak akan ngasih tau, tapi gue akan kasih petunjuk yang mendukung alasan gue.

Kenapa plot twist itu gue bilang sesuai konteks? Karena memang sesuai dengan kelebayan karakter. Sudah itu aja. Jadi wajar kalo plot twist-nya kemudian lebay, karena memang sesuai dengan kelebayan si pelaku.

Cuma memang gue gak suka sama epilogue film yang mencoba membawa penonton ke konklusi permisif, seolah pengen minta maaf dan pengen ngasih “pesan moral” (jujur, gue rada-rada gadeg gimana gitu kalo nemu orang yang nanya, “Pesan moralnya apa?” pas abis nonton film). Meskipun masih masuk dengan semangat dan tema “persahabatan”, gue pikir akan lebih asoy geboy kalo emang dibawa aja sekalian gila epiloguenya. Jadi gak ada kesan untuk memasukkan “pesan moral” ke film.

Yang gue suka lagi dari Hangout adalah gimana film ini nunjukin sense of directing Dika yang selama ini sering diremehin (gue jujur aja termasuk yang ngeremehin). Di film ini, Dika tau gimana ngebangun suspensi lewat visual storytelling dan itu keliatan banget emang sebagai referensi ke berbagai film. Kayaknya Dika di sini nonton banyak film, terus tekniknya dipakai di Hangout.

Ada satu momen saat Dika make teknik “vertigo” atau “zolly” untuk ngehadirin ketegangan di salah satu karakter kunci. Juga gimana Dika ngambil berbagai shot dan ngerangkainya untuk ngebangun ilusi tempat terpencil. Shot di Hangout terasa mantap dan percaya diri.  Saat satu momen ada aerial shot diambil lewat drone, gambarnya pun mantap dan nggak pecah.

Yang istimewa juga dari Hangout adalah gimana Dika bisa ngejaga atmosphere suspense thriller-nya, sehingga perilaku karakternya yang ajaib mengundang tawa. Sama kayak karakter Dika yang gue tangkap di film ini, mencoba serius, tapi gak bisa dianggap serius. Atmosfirnya dijaga serius, tapi materi lawakan dan set-up-nya digeber hampir nonstop sepanjang film.

Aktor-aktor di film ini juga yahud. Gue sih kayak ngeliat mereka emang gak main film, tapi jadi diri sendiri. Meski istilah “jadi diri sendiri” juga gak tepat, karena mereka masih akting, kok. Bedanya mereka rileks.

Gue gak percaya kalo Dinda emang kayak gitu atau gak yakin ada artis yang joroknya minta ampun kayak gitu. Atau Surya Saputra yang masih kejebak ama karakternya di Arisan. Itulah nikmatnya Hangout. Kayak This Is The End, pilihan untuk para karakternya memakai nama mereka sesungguhnya membuat batasan antara ilusi dan kenyataan jadi kabur. Ada sentuhan realisme jadinya. Kayak para artis ini pengen ngeledekin dan ngolok-ngolok satu sama lain (atau mungkin juga nyindir orang lain), tapi dalam bingkai komedi satire. Kasian amat hidup lo, kalo lo gak bisa nerima komedi sebagai jokes dan nganggapnya kelewat serius.

Itulah yang bikin Hangout ini punya enerji yang nyenengin.

Aktor-aktor di sini emang penampilannya luwes-luwes. Tapi gue teteup punya favorit. Favorit gue si Soleh Solihun ama Bayu Skak. Soleh karena dia bisa nunjukin kalo dia punya dramatic side (gue yakin dia bisa dikasih peran serius setelah nonton film ini. Kayak pas Stephen Chow main di film CJ-7). Gue juga suka Bayu Skak karena dia bisa nunjukin akting nangis dan frustasi secara mengejutkan kecenya.

Ada beberapa momen memang di mana Hangout keliatan mengendur di pace dan ritme. Kayak pas adegan Dika dan Soleh saling curiga itu ada yang bisa di-cut tanpa ngeganggu filmnya. Tapi secara keseluruhan film ini berhasil jadi lucu, menyenangkan dan sekaligus cerdas.

Ada yang memang gak suka film ini. Itu tadi, kemungkinannya mereka gak bisa ngelepas brand-nya Raditya Dika. Mungkin juga karena udah kelanjur kemakan oleh asumsi film ini akan kayak Agatha Christi banget. Atau mungkin juga gak nangkep referensi atau olok-olok yang film ini coba lakukan.

Tapi, biarpun gitu, Hangout adalah bukti kalo Dika memang punya bakat yang gak bisa disepelein. Ini filmnya yang paling “bener” secara filmis (termasuk Cinta Dalam Kardus) dan di mana dia mau bereksperimen, tapi gak keluar dari core-nya. Kayak versi dodolnya Janji Joni, filmnya Joko Anwar, yang juga satire dan metacinema.

Gue sih ama ViJo ngerasa ngalamin pengalaman meta juga pas nonton  film ini. Gue hangout sambil nonton film Hangout.


Di repiew di Lotte Avenue XXI, pas tanggal 22 Desember 2016 barengan @ViJo

Untuk list crew dan casts, kali ini Googling aje-yee. Kemaren lupa nyatet, karena keburu keluar bioskop akibat kelaperan.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Forced Gratitude in A Mise-en-Scene Inc.


“Last year’s TFA is also functioning as the catalog for Star Wars brand. But, at least, it’s being honest in proclaiming itself as a platform of nostalgic. What hurtful about Rogue One is the movie betrays the concept of sacrifice and martyrdom as an act of barter for hope. To the contrary, this movie relies on nods as the foreground, but rarely lets our condolence to the unsung heroes touching the ground.”

In Star Wars Episode IV (with the additional subtitle A New Hope attached later on) signature opening crawl, it is said that the story set during the battle where The Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the devilish regime of Empire’s ultimate planet destroyer, The Death Star.

There’s a scene in the middle of the movie wherein a group of Empire highest rank officers gather in an internal meeting with Darth Vader also as a participant. The seemingly crucial meeting is about the possibility of The Rebel to defeat them, even though the extremely deadly Death Star is on their side. The meeting seems to have the highest level of urgency and, judging by the way they’re talking about it, it clearly shows that they’ve lost a top secret data related to Death Star’s weakness.

“If the rebels have obtained a complete technical readout of this station, it’s possible, however unlikely, that they might find a weakness and exploit it”, says a worrisome Empire high ranks officer.

One of his colleagues, however, does have a high assurance and then bragging about Death Star’s mega powerful ability and how undefeatable it is.

The conceit then has earned Darth Vader himself to response. In James Earl Jones’s deep baritone-well-articulated voice, Darth Vader says, “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of The Force.”

Darth Vader is right. For those who have been the loyal fans of Star Wars saga must know the end result and how The Force helps The Rebels to claim the victory. But Episode IV has us wondered about the mystery surrounding its plot-holes and the first question is, “How do The Rebels get the information of a supposedly super secretive Death Star blue print in the first place?”. It’s soon followed by other questions, such as, “How could a single laser blast blow up a massive gigantic planet-alike weapon?”; “Why would the architect of Death Star not thinking such a fatal and glaring error in his masterpiece?; “Isn’t it silly to let the exhaust vent and the core reactor linked?”; or “Why The Empire does not have a magnetic field as a shield to cover their most precious asset?”.

Episode IV and the rest of Star Wars movies may rely on The Force as the plot device to justify the illogical answer for unexplained driving force in its narrative. The using of The Force has the similar function as in using words like “God’s destiny”, or “fate”, or “fortune” to describe something that happens for no logical reasons. Some avid fans may have no complaints, but some others sure keep on questioning. And questions lead to conversations, conversations mean interests, and interests, in the eyes of studio executives is equal to the reflection of market opportunity.

So, “why don’t we create a Star Wars film to answer the questions in Episode IV?” way of thinking is the main reason why Rogue One: A Star Wars Story exists. Disney and LucasFilm call it “a spin-off’ and fans eat it up. The enthusiasm for this movie, following the commercial success of last year’s The Force Awakens (TFA), gets widened. I talked to some youngsters at a local IMAX theater in Jakarta who said that TFA was the factor why they bought tickets for the first show of Rogue One. They’re not Star Wars fans. They haven’t watched Episode IV yet and their only guide to the Star Wars universe was TFA. But the fact that they’re now starting to be familiar with Star Wars as a brand is undeniable and Disney/LucasFilm proves their marketing skill successfully kill the generation gap. In that context, Rogue One can be seen as a continuation of Star Wars as a brand.

A phenomenal brand that it is, Rogue One as the latest part of Star Wars brand, treated like a myth. For its first day releases in Indonesia and some other South East Asia countries, the studio and exhibitors agreed to cut the usual first time shows at 12 and started at 4 pm instead. Sure the decision sparked rumors and curiosity and it hasn’t yet answered. But my guess is the decision has something to do with the number of four as Rogue One shares the same timeline with Episode IV. But again, it is only a numerology speculation.

There’s a sort of conflict of interest among film critics and reviewers in seeing Rogue One. Do we see Rogue One as a film or as part of a phenomenal brand? Can we see it with an independent mind and let the dark side of our geeky sentimental go?

Star Wars movies are all about the family affairs of Skywalker clan, about the drama of members of a royal family with daddy issue. From that perspective, Rogue One actually has something unique because it’s a story of a group of proletarians who have nothing to do with any Skywalker bourgeois inner circle. What unites them is they’re fighting against the same enemy, the authoritarian regime of Galactic Empire.

What I like about Rogue One is the movie offers the other side of the story of unsung heroes behind that famous attack on Death Star in Episode IV to us. The idea is to tell the story about a band of guerilla fighters who never receive any credits for their bravery and martyrdom.

The lead figure here is Jyn Erso (played by an Oscar nominee actress, Felicity Jones, A Monster Calls). Jyn has a baby fat in her cheeks that makes her having a raw beauty looks with soft-hearted persona, but with a certain determination of courage in her eyes. Just imagine the adult and dark-haired version of Laura Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie.

Jones’ Jyn follows a new tradition in Star Wars saga after taken over by The Mouse House to continue their archetypal princess representation in movies. Jyn resembles Daisy Ridley’s Rey in TFA, since both of them share some similar characteristics: as the lead character, rebellion, and a natural martial artist. What separates them is that we know who Jyn’s parents are.

Jyn is, first seen as a child in the opening sequence, the daughter of Galen Orso (played by Mads Mikkelsen, an actor with a cold and ruthless look) and Lyra (Valene Kane). This small family of three is living in peace and harmony in a presumably rural savanna-alike planet until one day their existence is caught on Empire’s radar and they send out a spaceship led by General Orson Krennic ( Ben Mendelsohn) to capture Orso family. It turns out that Galen is a scientist whose competency needed by Empire to get Death Star completed—a job in which he undisguised refused since, to his knowledge, the project will only cause calamity and holocaust to the universe. While her parents are wrangling (“You’re confusing peace with terror!”, says Galen Orso calmly to General Krennic) with their would-be captors, Jyn hides away and later witnesses her mother’s death.

Jyn is supposed to be taken care by Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whitaker)—I assume the name of Saw Gerrera was inspired by Che Guevara, an iconic Marxist and Cuba revolutionary leader—a close friend of his father, but for an unknown reason, Gerrera leaves Jyn in an underground bunker.

Saw Gerrera is, like Che Guevara, indeed an extremist rebellion who chooses to work on a different path with Rebel Alliance and going solo instead.

We see Jyn again later, after many years passing by, this time she is arrested by The Rebel Alliance for her connection to her father. In The Rebel Alliance’s opinion, Jyn must know something about her father’s work, a person whom she actually has had no contact with for a very long time. In fact, Jyn has no idea that her father is building an extremely deadly super weapon for the Galactic Empire.

As the story goes, Jyn reunites with Saw Gerrara in an unexpected event through a renegade Galactic Empire pilot named Bodhi Rook (played by Riz AhmedA Night of), who claims he was sent by Jyn’s father to hand a holographic message in which he explains why he decided to work on the Death Star and reveals the secret about how to defeat it.

To defeat Death Star and comply with her father’s mandate, Jyn needs a team. Later she is tossed by a band of strangers, including Bodhi Rook; an I’ll-do-whatever-it-takes Rebel Alliance assassin named Cassian Andor (Diego Luna); K-2SO, a reprogrammed Galactic Empire analytic-strategy droid (voiced by Alan Tudyk) who is as peevish and pouty as C-3PO and Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory combined, but also has the ability to break a Stormtroopers’ bone with a flick of its hands; Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a sightless but still lethal monk-priest and the protector of Kyber Temple who believes in the power of The Force and repeatedly chants the mantra, “I’m one with The Force and The Force is with me”, that reminds me of Padawan Ganodi from The Clone Wars; and Baze Malbus (played by Chinese actor, Jiang Wen), Chirrut’s loyal and stoic sidekick, but cynically (and playfully) mocks his belief for The Force.

Together this band of misfits (who later accidentally call themselves as “Rogue One”) is about to accomplish a suicide mission a la “Dirty Dozen” and sabotaging The Death Star from the inside. Of course, just like another monomyth narrative, we will witness Jyn’s and other character’s transition from apolitical survivors to active rebels to heroic martyrs.

Rogue One is directed by Gareth Edwards, a slow builder filmmaker who, as in his previous two feature films (Monster, Godzilla reboot), tends to build characters and their interaction with each other before finally bringing us to the big action in the third act. In his 2014’s Godzilla, for instance, he intercuts one character’s point of view to another’s introducing us their each perspective about what actually happens and Edwards patiently takes us to one understanding in the final act. Edwards works on the same pattern in Rogue One, although, more likely follows the same formula the previous Star Wars entries have done before (especially Episode IV). We get it that an established brand has a trademark to uphold.

But that’s the problem with Rogue One, or one of many problems.

The movie tries to separate itself from Star Wars movies. It somewhat displays a shade of dark in its visual palette that reminiscences of Scott Ridley’s Prometheus. It can be seen on the color of the wardrobe and K-2SO’s design, or the dim light of the exterior and interior sets. In spite of giving the impression of earthly life, the choice of coloring, in the result, also creates the much seriousness in its tone. Rogue One does ask us to take it very seriously. From the philosophical-poetic-encouraging-lines of dialogue (General Tarkin’s “We need a testamentnot a manifesto”) to the quasi-parallel metaphor to current political issue (the setting of Planet Jedha where Saw Gerrera and his separatist group live resembles Jerusalem; Gerrera’s team brief battle against Empire’ troops; and the way they dress, will have our mind reconnected to the conflict in Syria).

But in contrast to its appeal of being serious, the screenplay for Rogue One—written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (the later also directed some re-shot scenes in this movie)—merely works on a soap opera-ish mechanism and without being constructed to sustain a serious logical consistency and reason. For example, there’s a scene when Diego Luna’s Cassian kills an informant whom he receives rumor about Jyn. The screenplay may try to emulate Cassian’s threatening persona and emphasizing his character as an effective assassin, like when Hans Solo shoots Greedo in the original 1977 film. But there’s no proper set-up for this scene, neither is a follow through. As if it’s just a mindless murder or a cheap narrative gimmick.

As a movie destined to answer the plot-holes in Episode IVRogue One tragically suffers the same fate. It’s hard not to notice some of its logically flawed narratives. For example, the Death Star plans are described being transmitted to Group One of the rebel fleet who departed from Base HQ at Yavin 4 only to send them on a ship back to, guess what, Yavin 4. Why don’t they send them directly to Yavin 4? Or in the most ridiculous aspect is the using of communication technology. Rogue One is set in the era of spaceship travels at the speed of light, but why do they still use radio HQ communication?

Rogue One, in fact, has a smart creative decision in using the theme of sacrifice as the narrative bridging to Episode IV. As the events of this film is set sometime between Star Wars Episode III (Revenge of the Sith) and A New Hope. The main idea in Rogue One is how a group of multi-ethnic-strangers willingly to work together in a team, forfeit themselves in a fight against tyranny, and their acts are only bound in hope for a much better future (“Rebellions are built on hope”, says Jyn to Cassian). But to make us believe in this idea, we need to believe in them as a team. We need to believe that they trust each other and share the same faith. And unfortunately, Rogue One is hard to convince us.

One of the most obvious problems why the movie fails to have us invested into the characters is because all of them are rogue characters and they’re distant in such a way that we never get close to any of them. Rogue One has the similar problem with Suicide Squad, in terms of the failure in building on-screen chemistry, they don’t provide enough time for their characters to hang out and interact on screen.

Sure, Jyn and her unlikely buddies are seen being together for a couple of times, but when they’re being on screen, it rarely made it a few seconds before the camera cuts away to a series of close-ups of his characters. And this happens precisely in the crucial moments when they are in process of assembling. It’s important to notice that, during the assembling process, how often the camera shoots the characters separately, then cut between close-ups of all of them, which isolates them in frame with no real human connection. The end result is we feel the lack of process of emotional integration or earnest compassion.

This is why the focus of making Rogue One as the continuation of Star Wars as a brand kills its potency of greatness. Disney and LucasFilm are more interested in establishing this film as the window display for Star Wars universe trivia by putting a large number of characters from previous installments in order to provoke hysteria from the fans. As much I’m hyped as a fan, the idea of cramming those recognizable characters (from that Mos Eisley Cantina’s duo bastards of Episode IV to Jimmy Smith’s Senator Bail Organa from Revenge of Sith who speaks no words at all) costs the dynamic loss. So often, camera work is designed only to provide the glimpse of those familiar characters in the midst of interaction build-up between Rogue One members.

Rogue One is indeed a corporate effort of incorporating George Lucas’ original trilogy mise-en-scene (the set, the props, the weaponry, the Stormtroopers, even some famous shots)—although it’s a very open-handedly welcome by fans like me—that feels like sacrificing the theme of sacrifice.

The level of seriousness in this movie’ tone also ruins the interaction dynamic between main characters. What makes the process of human interaction between characters in Episode IV seems to be believable is that they appear to be a group of cool persons who love to hang out around. The key is the lighter and humorous tone of the movie. We tend to blend nicely with someone we barely know if we share some laughter. That what happens in Episode IV, since Hans Solo, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, C3PO and R2D2 meet in a hilarious and relax way. The result is their chemistry feels fluid and organic. Compare to the depressing and serious tone of Rogue One, that’s the reason why the character of K-2SO the droid appears as the scene-stealer since he provides a plenty amounts of comedy with his sarcastic and abrasive quips and he turns out, ironically, being the most human and fully characterized, even compares to his human companions. We as the audiences are attracted to K-2SO character and, not surprisingly, when he must die in the line of duty, we feel the loss and the grief, but we don’t feel the same way towards other characters.

As a Star Wars movie, Rogue One has no Jedi, nor the iconic lightsaber battle. But it has a plenty of The Force. The screenplay needs to use it as the usual plot device to make us condoning the deus-ex-machina moments. Jyn, our heroine, has a necklace with Kyber Crystal as the pendant. In Star Wars universe, Kyber is a rare Force-attuned mineral as the source of energy for Jedi ‘ or Sith’ light-saber. That’s the only reasonable answer why the deeply spiritual and an affirmed believer of The Force like Chirrut îmwe gets immediately emotionally connected to Jyn Erso.

Aside from its tragically indisposed first and second acts, Rogue One somehow manages to surpass the previous Star Wars movies failed to do. Visually.

The space battles, the x-wing dogfights, and the third act action scenes feel logical and magical. Hatched by LucasFilm/ILM visual effects supervisor, John Knoll, and shot by d.o.p Greg Fraser (Foxcatxher, Zero Dark Thirty), Rogue One is a kind of collaborative effort that impossible to execute before. Fraser’s photography feels functional and uses a lot of wide shots to evoke majestic views. Fraser also utilizes the perspective scale to intimidate audiences. What’s interesting is he differentiates the heroes and villains with his camera. He uses low angle shots to determine the villainous character, as if they look down at you under their nose, creating the impression pomposity and haughtiness. Meanwhile, Fraser shot the heroes from high angle shots, causing the illusion of self-effacing.

Fraser’s camera also brings us to see the vulnerable side of Darth Vader (James Earl Jones lends his voice again).Here, Darth Vader abandons his usual economic words and it feels so off-balance with his menacing aura.

Michael Giacchino’s score is another state of perplexity. His score feels anemic and hesitates between the needs to dissociate itself from Star Wars and to be in-line with the mandatory for the purpose of branding continuity.

Last year’s TFA is also functioning as the catalog for Star Wars brand. But, at least, it’s being honest in proclaiming itself as a platform of nostalgic. What hurtful about Rogue One is the movie betrays the concept of sacrifice and martyrdom as an act of barter for hope. To the contrary, this movie relies on nods as the foreground, but rarely lets our condolence to the unsung heroes touching the ground.

When a movie supposed to be a paean to a tragic heroic story or a gratitude to the unsung heroes, but we end up cheering instead of cherishing, we know this movie has a huge problem.

And that’s the problem with Rogue OneA Star Wars Story. A story of the forced gratitude in a mise-en-scene incorporated.


Reviewed at IMAX Kelapa Gading on December 14, 2016, in 3D

Running time: 138 minutes

A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release of a Lucasfilm Ltd. production. Producers: Simon Emanuel, Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur. Executive producers: John Knoll, Jason D. McGatlin. Co-

Director: Gareth Edwards

Screenplay: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy

Story: John Knoll, Gary Whita based on characters created by George Lucas

Camera (color, widescreen):  Greg Fraser

Editor:  John Gilroy, Colin Goudie, Jabez Olsen

Music: Michael Giacchino

Casts: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits, Alistair Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly, Beau Gadsdon, Dolly Gadsdon.