Saturday, February 12, 2005

Pseudo-review : The Year of Living Vicariously

Year : 2004
Running time : 63 minutes
Language : Bahasa Indonesia with English subtitles
Writer / Director : Amir Muhammad

Made with the assistance of The Nippon Foundation's Asian Public Intellectuals Fellowship.

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Aku cinta
Kamu cinta
Semua cinta
Buatan Indonesia…..

(I love, you love, everybody loves, Made In Indonesia)

The Year of Living Vicariously wears the badge of being a socio-political documentary set around the making of Indonesian film Gie (Miles Film, 2005). Gie, directed by Riri Riza and produced by Mira Lesmana is based on the life of the late Soe Hok Gie, an Indonesian activist circa 1960s who plays a role in the student movement which many believe is an important influence towards Sukarno's fall. Filming of The Year of Living Vicariously also coincides with the 2004 presidential election (which instituted Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as the new president replacing Megawati Sukarnoputri). In the film Amir was the interviewer himself and got the cast and crew of Gie to candidly discuss their thoughts on Indonesian politics past and current, among a couple of other topics. Each and every one of the subjects interviewed had his or her own words to say, and Amir let them do it in the most unobtrusive way.

Using a dual screen technique in a major part of the film (which I think is a clever thing, this play of images), we would see a person answering Amir’s questions at one side while the adjacent image will either show them in action of the film-making process or be of another image altogether that may either emphasizes what they were talking about or completely negates it. Or both. The fact that the documentary was shot over a period of several months is apparent in the visible date and time markers that were purposely left in.

The Year of Living Vicariously takes you into the picture of the Indonesian that wants to see change in the country but is only too aware of the many obstacles, the Indonesian that hopes against hope that there will be a better future for the people, the Indonesian that only wants to make a living and be comfortable, the Indonesian that has unrelenting faith in the spirit of the country itself no matter what. There are some differences in how they see things and how it is done over there, and then there are also some similarities with my own beloved Malaysia. What amazes me most anyhow is the depth and the strength of these people's opinions. Save for perhaps one or two, they have some very strong things to say about the local politics and seem to be very comfortable in telling it like it is to a foreign individual. And these are actors, actresses, film crew talking - which includes the more-recognized Nicholas Saputra (though it's open for debate whether the same group who watched Ada Apa Dengan Cinta here would also be interested to watch Gie). But then the political overtones of Gie itself must've helped in getting them in the 'mood'. And I then imagine questions of the same line being posed to our local stars. Hehem. While doing Anak Mami the Nth, perhaps. Or Cinta Sekolah Rendah. Or whatever. Yeah yeah... I know that's not being fair. Hehem.

Although I am not Indonesian I could still relate to these people on a certain level, partly due to being in a neighbouring country and partly due to having plenty of Indonesian cousins, aunts and uncles thanks to a paternal grandfather that hails from Medan. The film reminds me too well of a comment made by a cousin when Dad joked about wanting to be president of Indonesia -

“Ahh.. mentadbir Indonesia itu enggak enak Om… walau untuk siapa saja”
(Uncle, running Indonesia is not a fun thing to do, no matter for whom).

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In consistent fashion with a lot of his previous works, Amir once again unfailingly throws in a surprise factor to make The Year of Living Vicariously a different sort of work – this documentary also has the interviewees telling their favorite local folklores. Local folklores alongside political thoughts? Somehow, it works. I didn’t know the story of Samosir Island before, and now I do.

Interesting film to see then? You bet. Very watchable.

This film together with Tokyo Magic Hour has been invited to the 34th International Film Festival Rotterdam (January 26 - February 6) and the 48th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 21 - May 5).

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