By Kyriacos Kyriacou

With the questioning title “Lovely Man,” and the main characters being a transvestite prostitute and his religious Islamic daughter, being intriguing enough, the movie takes us in a human reconciliation journey, in the streets of the capital of Indonesia, during a single night.

Cahaya (Raihaanun), a 19-years-old girl with strong Islamic values, arrives in Jakarta seeking her long lost father Sailful (Donny Damara). To her surprise, she finds what she is looking for in the face of a stranger, a transvestite man named Ipuy, working as a prostitute in the streets at night. Hesitant at the beginning, they wander in the streets of Jakarta until the dawn and they end up in an encounter of self-realization and soul salvation for both of them.

Teddy Soeriaatmadja, who writes and pens the movie, unfolds the story at a slow pace. It takes place during one night and focuses on the characters’ dialogues in the form of confessions, and human nature, but it does not intent to be philosophical. Although the two protagonists have contradicting values, as the night goes by, the distant and negative Ipuy merges with Saiful into a person who feels sympathy for Cahaya, as his daughter.

Raihaanun gives a decent performance as the religious and hurt daughter, but the epicenter is Donny Damara. The role is challenging, but he portrays Saiful/Ipuy so vividly and exceptionally. The body language seems so natural that occasionally reminds us Charlize Theron’s remarkable performance in Monster (2003). His win at the 6th Asian Film Awards for the Best Actor prize is undeniably worthy and puts the spotlight on this film. The interactions between their performances restore the emotional balance of the story and unravel the empty spaces of their souls.

“Lovely Man” is slow and hypnotic. Camera close-ups are used to focus attention on characters’ reactions and reveal their feelings, and the hand-held technique aims to give an authenticity to the scenes and makes it more realistic. In addition, scene fade-outs, blurred images, and distant shots enhance Ical Tanjung’s unique cinematography. Bobby Surjadi’s music underlines the nostalgic mood, and other elements, like the dim night city lights and the silence, contribute to evoke feelings. One significant scene in the film shows Ipuy working in the streets with background music of Debussy’s Clair de Lune in contrast. Waluyo I Diardono’s editing has some flaws, but the interchange of the scenes of Cahaya praying while her father copes with the shadows of the night, is memorable.

A highly recommended film that focuses on acceptance and redemption. A movie that depicts human deviation, through an unusual, for Indonesian cinema, perspective. Whether you are the transvestite father or the religious daughter, there is something pure inside every human soul, and through this purity, a lovely man can emerge.