Stories about forbidden love is not something new for cinema, not even when we are talking specifically for ones between priests and nuns, which is the main theme of “Ave Maryam”. Robby Ertanto however, manages to overcome almost all clichés of the category, particularly through the way he implements image and sound. Let us take things from the beginning, though.
The story takes place in 1980, in a nursing facility for nuns. Sister Maryam “works” there, completely devoted to her chores and to God. However, when Yosef, a handsome and liberal pastor, who is to take charge of the local orchestra, arrives at the facility, all things change. Yosef does not waste much time in showing his feelings to Maryam, but she resists initially. He does not back down though, and the Sister finds herself in front of a life changing decision.
Ertanto uses the dilemma of “God or Love” to present a subtle romantic story about forbidden love, whose narrative and overall aesthetics owe much to Wong Kar Wai’s style. In that fashion, he benefits the most from Ical Tanjung’s cinematography, who presents a number of scenes of meaningful beauty, with the ones with the window and the sea, the beach, and the one with night date being the most memorable, although a plethora of them are exceptional. The way he uses his camera, to allow the audience to feel like they are picking on the protagonists, mostly through Maryam’s character, is exceptional, and another heads up to the visual style of Wong Kar Wai’s movies.
Another impressive aspect of the film is the music, with Ertanto “coating” almost every scene with a very fitting track, ranging from hymns and opera to gospel, thus heightening the sense he wanted to give to each sequence, and intensifying the entertainment aspect of the film. Wawan I. Wibowo’s editing induces the film with a dreamy, relatively slow pace that suits its aesthetics to perfection.
Probably the best asset of the narrative is the build-up of the romance, from rather reluctant to rather obvious, with the consequences to Maryam’s work functioning as a direct proof of her emotions. In that fashion, the film benefits the most from Maudy Kusnaedi’s performance as Maryam, with her succeeding in portraying her inner struggle in laconic but also very eloquent fashion. Chicco Jerikho as father Yosef is more obvious, but his performance is equally good, with him highlighting his happy-go-lucky attitude in a rather delightful way. The chemistry of the two is another of the film’s best assets, and is exemplified in the scene in the restaurant where the lines heard of a movie playing in the background seem to mirror the throughts of the duet. Joko Anwar also plays a rather memorable part as the head priest (with the small parts he keeps playing in various movies moving towards becoming cult).
“Ave Maryam” is an impressive film, in both narrative and technical terms and a real treat to watch, while at 85 minutes, has just the right duration to be enjoyed by everyone.