Indonesian New Wave and the Missing Alteration of Cinema

Indonesian New Wave: Coming-of-age and Horror

The missing alteration of the Indonesian New Wave began to experience the peak of cinema in the 70’s and 80’s, starting in the early 90’s. Many observers considered the Indonesian film industry suspended animation. As evidenced by the suspension of the Indonesian Film Festival (from now on IFF) in 1992, the Indonesian film industry has experienced ups and downs in its history of development. At the beginning of the decade, the Indonesian film industry began to rise, triggered by several successful films attracting thousands of viewers.

The Uninvited, directed by Rizal Mantovani and Jose Poernomo, and What’s Up with Cinta? directed by Rudy Soedjarwo, are two very prominent films to start the decade of the 2000s. After the extraordinary commercial success, the two films in a short period appeared films that used similar themes: coming-of-age and horror. Despite all the aesthetic achievements that these films have achieved, some people call this movement the Indonesian New Wave: a new movement, a passion for the Indonesian film industry that is still ongoing today.

The Non-distinctive Characters

Unlike the French New Wave, the Indonesian cinema movement does not have a distinctive aesthetic character. The tendency in the Indonesian cinema movement is the use of romance or horror themes, which are oriented towards teenagers or young audiences. Apart from focusing on the youth audience, it seems as if they are the ones who dominate the cinema audience; a film is made solely to gain as much profit as possible.

Not only is it a guarantee of the success or failure of a film, but it is also legitimate. However, what is the actual level of achievement of Indonesian cinema? Apart from the fact that some Indonesian films are selling well among domestic audiences, are Indonesian movies ready to compete with foreign films? Can Indonesian films be commercially successful in foreign countries and speak at the Academy Awards level?

Loetoeng Kasaroeng, Darah dan Doa, and President Suharto

To reflect on how the Indonesian New Wave and the missing alteration of cinema could answer the questions at the outset, we must look back at history first. The first domestically made film in Indonesia was Loetoeng Kasaroeng, a silent film debuting in 1926. It was followed by the production of 21 films between 1925-1931. The industry proliferated with 41 films released in 1941, mostly romance films mixed with music and martial arts. With Darah dan Doa, directed by Usmar Ismail, Indonesia has its first film produced by the Indonesian production house, State Film Productions. Film critics and moviegoers often assume that the film is the first national feature film in Indonesia.

With the New Order government between 1965 and 1998, strict censorship under the dictatorship of President Suharto kept the film industry from developing. The government believes that Indonesian cinema should only screen films that can offer educational and cultural purposes. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, government censorship of national films loosened slightly. It is causing erotic movies such as Djampang Mentjari Naga Hitam and Bernafas dalam Lumpur to be targeted. However, in late 1972, strict censorship returned. They are cracking down on the film industry, especially when it comes to productions depicting sexual content.

Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI, 80s, and Garin Nugroho

The 1980s saw a revival of the Indonesian film industry, with more than 700 films being made in this decade. However, many of them quickly produced rip-offs of better action and horror films. Regardless, the industry still has gems by legendary Indonesian directors such as Teguh Karya and Sjumandjaja. Tjoet Nja’ Dhien, directed by Eros Djarot in 1988, was the first Indonesian film to be included in the feature category at Cannes 1989. On the other hand, there is a propaganda film entitled Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI, directed by Arifin C. Noer in 1984, which was most successful in the country and ordered by the government to be shown on national television every year.

With the emergence of private television stations that produce cheap soap operas with high production costs due to the rise of imported films, the Indonesian film industry stalled in the 90s. There were fewer than 30 films produced in 1996 until it dropped to less than 10 in 1999. Garin Nugroho continues to screen his films and win awards at prestigious international film festivals despite all that. By winning awards such as Best Young Director at the Asia Pacific International Film Festival and Young Filmmakers Jury Award at the Berlin Film Festival, he became one of the few success stories of Indonesian films in this era.

Kuldesak, Laskar Pelangi, and The Raid

After the overthrow of Suharto in 1998, the reform era did not only bring about political reform. However, it is also cultural and marks greater freedom of speech. Filmmakers began to face the harsh realities of life in Indonesia and began experimenting with different approaches and themes. Released in late 1998, the film Kuldesak is an essential bridge between the two eras. It is speaking to a new generation of moviegoers in a way that no other Indonesian film has done before.

Films such as Serigala Terakhir and The Raid became new favorites and signaled the emergence of contemporary Indonesian action films. Apart from being new favorites, children’s dramas and films such as Laskar Pelangi are still the most successful Indonesian audiences. With over four million viewers in attendance, perhaps most importantly, IFF restarted also in 2004 after a 12-year hiatus.

The Fundamental Weakness of Indonesian Cinema

Judging from the history of Indonesian cinema, in this era, the basic weakness in Indonesian cinema is the fragile plot motivation. Often, the audience cannot see an intense series of cause-and-effect relationships other than consistency in a storyline. Weak dialogue also often makes it worse.

Indeed, several Indonesian films have achieved relatively good cinematography by presenting intense image compositions. However, what is the meaning of a beautiful picture if the films do not have a strong plot? It indirectly affects the acting achievement of the players of whatever caliber he is. Fortunately, gimmicks such as a sweet soundtrack that coincides with the film’s theme often help Indonesian films.

The Future of Indonesian New Wave

IFF, since the last two years, has started to reappear. It is, of course, very positive for the development of Indonesian cinema. However, there needs to be a balance between improving the quality of all industry players if Indonesian cinema is to speak at a higher level. It is nothing. How can it be if filmmakers produce good work but do not understand anything? In the French New Wave, Truffaut and his friends already have extensive knowledge of films in terms of form, style, themes, techniques, and all kinds of movies from the thousands of films they have watched. They did not become directors because of pressure from anyone.

However, it is more because of their love of a film that the film has become a part of their lives. In this era, films such as 27 Steps of May, Gundala, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, and Memories of My Body have become a film that competes in major film festivals out there. Today, the government has taken steps to fix the industry. This includes allowing foreign investment to realize the economic potential of attracting tourism through films. However, the changes to the guidelines have and will bring new hope. It aims to find out where the missing alteration of cinema in the Indonesian New Wave is.

Bibliography

About the author

Salman Al Farisi is the owner of Calxylian and is an elitist who has enjoyed and studied various mediums. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in 2020 from the Haluoleo University, Indonesia, where he studied English Literature, Film Criticism, Cultural Studies, Literary Theory, and Literary Criticism. He lives in Kendari in his mom's basement, now unemployed and ghostwriter, life with his cats, and is looking for the future.

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