Indonesian Reviews Reviews

Film Review: Kuldesak (1999) by Nan Triveni Achnas, Mira Lesmana, Rizal Mantovani, Riri Riza

In essence, four different films molded into one, this omnibus was released in 1999, a time that brought Abdurrahman Wahid as president and as the bringer of a new era, a hope that was shattered quite soon, leading to new protests after the tragic events of 1998. The film took three years to complete, commencing pre-production in 1996 during the Suharto rule and was released five months after his resignation. The dead end the youths of the time felt, particularly in the urban centers, is depicted quite eloquently in the collection, which was highly influenced by the Dogme 95 movement.

Kuldesac” is screening at Aperture: Asia & Pacific Film Festival

The story revolves around four individuals. Dina is a girl working the ticket booth in a theater, obsessed with  a popular TV host, who eventually meets a gay couple, Budi and Yanto.. Lina is a company employee who is forced to stay overnight to the office, after she gets on the bad side of her boss. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes her in the worst of ways when she is assaulted while working, in an event that is soon revealed as something more sinister and complicated that she imagined. Andre is a metalhead who idolizes Kurt Cobain, but lives a rather empty life that becomes even worse when he learns of his idol's death. His “nemesis” however, comes into the form of a vacuum cleaner salesman. Aksan wants to shoot a movie but does not have the funds, while a friend of his suggests to rob his rich uncle. Unfortunately, the duo are the ones who eventually get robbed, in a series of events that leads to tragedy.  

The film uses a rather dramatic approach to highlight the circumstances of youths in Jakarta, where uncertainty on all levels, socially, professionally, and culturally, is the rule. The protagonists in the film seem to roam in the world aimlessly, without any kind of guidance or any visible roots to anything, in essence being lost and barely even knowing it.

The blights of impression over substance are mirrored in Dina's story, whose obsession with TV borders on being an ailment. Lina's character functions as the personification of the consequences of modern capitalism, which in this case, take a physical manifestation. The penetration of Western culture is quite evident in the stories of Andre, regarding music, and of Aksan, regarding movies, with the ending of their stories also functioning as a harsh critique of the concept. Furthermore, and as a more general comment, the film highlights the dehumanization of life in the urban centers, where loneliness and disconnection from people is the rule.

The cinematic approach of all the directors as a whole could be described as art-house; however, there are also many genre elements here, with Dina's segment bordering on exploitation at times, and Aksan's one concluding in a style that bares much semblance with thrillers.

Rizan Mandovani also worked in the editing of the segment, doing a great job connecting four different films into an almost compact one. Yadi Sugandi's cinematography is also great, mirroring the social commentary and the psychological status of the protagonists perfectly, mostly through dark colors. The low-budget nature of the production is evident, but I would say that the overall production values are decent, considering the circumstances and the fact that all the directors were taking the first steps into movie making. The score and the overall track selection are also great, featuring a number of rock and heavy metal tracks that suit the overall aesthetics quite nicely.

“Kuldesac” is a very interesting film, both on its own regard and as a sample of the new Indonesian cinema, that was just starting to surface, as much as of the beginning of the careers of four very competent directors.

About the author

Panos Kotzathanasis

Panagiotis (Panos) Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer, specialized in Asian Cinema. He is the owner and administrator of Asian Movie Pulse, one of the biggest portals dealing with Asian cinema. He is a frequent writer in Hancinema, Taste of Cinema, and his texts can be found in a number of other publications including SIRP in Estonia, in Slovakia, Asian Dialogue in the UK, Cinefil in Japan and Filmbuff in India.

Since 2019, he cooperates with Thessaloniki Cinematheque in Greece, curating various tributes to Asian cinema. He has participated, with video recordings and text, on a number of Asian movie releases, for Spectrum, Dekanalog and Error 4444. He has taken part as an expert on the Erasmus+ program, “Asian Cinema Education”, on the Asian Cinema Education International Journalism and Film Criticism Course.

Apart from a member of FIPRESCI and the Greek Cinema Critics Association, he is also a member of NETPAC, the Hellenic Film Academy and the Online Film Critics Association.

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