Posted by: mel | January 2, 2010

Paula Arantzazu Ruiz – A Double Portrait of Ethnic-Chinese Conflict in Indonesia

FIPRESCI | the international federation of film critics | Festival report | Rotterdam 2009: Trainee Project | accessed 2 January 2010

Both “9808 An Anthology of 10th Year Indonesian Reform” and “Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly share fragmentary narratives that deal with the Chinese-Indonesian identity claim after the end of Suharto’s dictatorship.

Indonesia is an archipelago of identities. It is not only a fragmentary country with hundreds of different islands, but also the world’s fourth-most populous nation, where about 300 different ethnic groups live. At this puzzle-like scenario, struggling for the own identity becomes then a relevant issue, especially for those who had suffered government pressures because of ethnic discrimination. Is identity cultural folklore? Or is maybe language, family ties, heritage or memories? What might happen if you are forced to hide your identity because it is forbidden by law?

Both 9808 An Anthology of 10th Year Indonesian Reform, a compilation of several short films, and Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly, directed by Edwin and awarded with the FIPRESCI prize at 38th IFFR, deal with the uprising of Chinese-Indonesian identity rights after the end of Suharto’s dictatorship by inquiring those questions in relation with the Indonesia’s very near past. Although the movies were conceived separately, they could be seen as a double portrait, a diptych in which one, 9808 An Anthology of 10th Year Indonesian Reform, enlightens the other and might function as a prologue of what Edwin shows in his allegoric Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly. Both, however, are built up from fragments — short films and a kaleidoscopic structure on the other hand — that finally conform a mosaic that mirrors the Jakarta riots of May 1998 and its consequences.

Scriptwriter Prima Rusdi is the man behind 9808 An Anthology of 10th Year Indonesian Reform: he encouraged ten young filmmakers to look back on May in 1998. In the short film Sugiharti Halim, director Ariani Darmawan wants to ask the audience what does a name mean, by remembering the law that forced the Ethnic-Chinese to adopt an Indonesian sounding name. Changing identities are also the topic of Chronicles of a (former) Demonstrator, directed by Wisnu Suryapratama, Yesterday, directed by Otty Widasari, and Hafiz’s Meet Jen: the first follows the filmmaker, one of the main activists during the students demonstrations of May 1998 and now a former father and husband; the second, examines different stages of two women life, with the Jakarta riots in mind; and the last short film also follows a man, Jen, whose life has not been transformed nor affected by Indonesia political changes. The other short films (Where Was I?, by Anggun Priambodo, Happiness Morning Light, directed by Ifa Isfansyah, A Letter of Unprotected Memories, by Lucky Kuswandi, The Unfinished One, by Ucu Agustin, Our School, Our Lives, directed by Steve Pillar Setiabudi) gives us the clues of the importance of the end of the New Order government in relation with the ethnic-Chinese conflict in Indonesia.

Edwin is also present in the short film anthology with his work Trip to the Wound, in which a young man and a young woman meet in a travel bus and begin talking about wounds, physical and mental; but what we find in this previous work has nothing to do with his feature debut. Blind Pig Who Wants To Flycertainly is a very brave and challenging movie. With its radical non-linear storytelling and their powerful and sometimes obscure metaphors, Edwin tells the situation of the ethnic-Chinese community through the perspective of the minority itself. At the first sequence, a couple of badminton players are playing a match and suddenly one little boy asked his father which of both is supposed to be Indonesian, because he cannot distinguish. Confusion and rejection of the own identity are at least, the main topics in the movie: Chinese-Indonesian are shown as someone who is waiting for something to blow up, someone being screwed up by Indonesian, someone confused with its own identity. Linda’s father is surely the character that best represent these ideas. He is a blind dentist who is pretending at the movie to be another person and he doesn’t care the price he has to pay in order to achieve his ultimate goal, not to be Chinese.

The unclear structure of the film points even more the uneasy situation of this minority in their own country. The audience might feel the movie is a mess, but its repeated confusion, its puzzle narrative and its allegoric mechanisms are only elements of a powerful mise en scène. However, we’ll hardly guess what the overuse of Stevie Wonder’s “I just call to say I love you” means, but, ultimately, the form of the film is the reflection of what the story is trying to explain: how difficult has always been to be Chinese in Indonesia.

Paula Arantzazu Ruiz. After studying English Philology at University of Barcelona and Journalism at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Paula Arantzazu Ruiz begins working as a journalist. “Go-Mag” magazine, “ADN” daily newspaper, “Cultura/s” and “ScannerFM” are some of the media she has contributed with.


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