Trailblazers of Indonesian Cinema

For the last few years, Indonesian Cinema has been having its mightiest resurgence since 2002. The 2014 election of President Joko Widodo resulted in unprecedented steps to boost the movie industry. Five film commissions have been set up and the mood is buoyant for filmmakers who want to express themselves.

Since its inception, CinemAsia has showcased Indonesian films rarely seen abroad. We’ve introduced up-and- coming talent and watched them grow in confidence and artistry. As Indonesian cinema finally takes its deserved place on the world stage, our Focus on Indonesia salutes the groundbreaking achievements of filmmakers, many of whom graced our previous editions.

Mouly Surya’s MARLINA, THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS became the third Indonesian feature to bow in Cannes. Arguably the first “satay western,” she subverted this white, male genre with a rip-roaring female revenge narrative, more relevant than ever in light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement.

Kamila Andini’s THE SEEN AND UNSEEN premiered to rave reviews at Toronto Film Festival. Interpreting children’s minds within a mythic Balinese setting, she’s created a film aesthetic all her own that’s vivid, unforced and emotionally grounded. Thus, she connects directly with viewers of any age and country.

Hanung Bramantyo, who specializes in candyfloss romances, changes his tune by recounting Indonesia’s most revered feminist KARTINI, who fought against polygamy and dedicated her life to the education of women. The gorgeous production recreates the cultural milieu of the Dutch colonial era. Dian Sastrowardoyo, who enjoys enduring popularity since starring in ADA APA DENGAN CINTA? delivers her most dignified performance. Incidentally, Surya cites Sjuman Djaya’s R.A. KARTINI (1984) as a major influence.

While MARLINA continues to take international festivals by storm, Joko Anwar’s SATAN’S SLAVES has raised the bar of local horror productions. A remake of a 1982 (the “scariest Indonesian film”), it became the country’s fourth highest grossing film ever and bestselling horror of all times. Ripe with the fashion and analogue music of the 80s, the film evokes old school horrors like THE OMEN, ROSEMARY’S BABY and Lucio Fulci’s HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. Yet, it boasts the racy narrative sophistication of THE CONJURING. Brimming with acerbic wit, this is Anwar’s classiest work yet.

The Indonesian domestic market has been energized, not only by SATAN’S SLAVES, but by the first foray of independent director Edwin into mainstream cinema. Edwin’s POSESIF achieves a narrative coherence and emotional heft that was missing in his more abstract and experimental features. Depicting the descent of a passionate relationship into jealousy, manipulative control and violence, Edwin sympathetically evokes teenagers’ fear of rejection as well as struggle for independence. The film transcends its pop genre through dark psychological undertones while building the empowering campaign “Say no to toxic relationships” around its release.



Fiction films are not the only genre that’s breaking new ground in Indonesian cinema. The year’s most discussion-worthy work is TARLING IS DARLING, an extraordinary documentary about “tarling dangdut,” a traditional song-and-dance form from the Javanese region of Indramayu. Director Ismail Fahmi Lubish makes us marvel at the performers’ flagrant eroticism and the drolly lewd lyrics. Yet there are several disturbing subtexts regarding the objectification of women, complicated by moral and religious issues.

Maggie Lee, artistic director

  • The Seen and Unseen (Sekala Niskala)
  • Posesif
  • Satan's Slaves (Pengabdi Setan)
  • Tarling is Darling
  • Kartini
  • Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (Marlina si Pembunuh dalam Empat Babak)
  • Indonesian Shorts Selection
  • Tina's Secret (Rahasia)
  • So Long, Home (Kapan Pulang, Kapan?)
  • Terra Maschine (Mesin Tanah)
  • Along the One Way (Sepanjang Jalan Satu Arah)
  • Sunday Story (Kisah di Hari Minggu)