In The Absence of the Sun

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I know it has been a little quiet in terms of reviews here recently, but that does not mean I have not been busy!  Actually I have been doing a few reviews and an interview over at Easternkicks.  More on that in my next post, but this review is also connected to what I have been doing over there.  The mystery will be over soon (and it isn’t that exciting!), so without further ado, lets take the trip cinematically to Indonesia, a locale I have covered very rarely over here at Gweiloramblings.

“In the Absence of the Sun” takes place during one night in Jakarta, following the stories of three very different women.  Indri (Ina Panggabean), a 24-year-old towel girl at a gym, has an unsuccessful date with a man she met online, the rich but repulsive Davit (Paul Agusta). Mrs Surya (Dayu Wijanto), a recently widowed housewife, discovers her deceased husband was having a relationship with a nightclub singer, and so decides to confront her rival.  Fimmaker Gia (Adinia Wirasti) has recently returned to Jakarta after 7 years away in New York, and feeling a little lost decides to reconnect with her ex friend/lover Naomi (Marissa Anita).  Their stories unfold as the night progresses, lightly touching upon each other, leading them all to the Lone Star Sex Hotel.

The three stories are connected in the sense of themes of love and loss, and of trying to connect with others, but other than the occasional shared location, a pair of shoes and characters that slip between the stories, the three leads have no real interaction with each other.

Indri’s story is probably the most charming, helped by the everyday girl appeal of Panggabean.  Her desires are simple, wanting a better life.  And whilst she thinks she can get it by finding a rich older man, she soon realises that she requires something a lot more simple – she desires a closeness, someone to love. It’s a simple story, but easily the easiest to connect with, and provides the dose of humour that the film needs to balance against.

The tale of Mrs Surya is the hardest to connect with, as our lead rarely talks.  But fortunately Wijanto is a more than capable actress, able to express her feelings by her movements and facial expression.  Her story reminds me of Wong Kar-wei’s “In the Mood for Love” – she attempts to replay her husbands infidelities.  For her though, there isn’t love around the corner, and she eventually succumbs to something physical but emotionally empty.  Her tale is the saddest, and the one I wished for a little more closure on as the sun began to rise.

Gia’s story is one I felt most able to empathise with.  I have returned home after years away and found the return equally difficult.  Although her inability to understand how people are now connected 100% to their smartphones and social media doesn’t quite ring true.  She was in New York, not Nepal – I am sure it is exactly the same there.  But I totally understood her frustrations with not being able to walk about, the feeling of being in a goldfish bowl, surrounded by glass, trapping her.  Of course her story has the added element of her sexuality.  The viewer realises quite early on how her ex-lover has changed, but the realisation of Gia that it’s just not possible for her to pick up this aspect of her life is quite heartbreaking.

Director Lucky Kuswandi has crafted a beautiful love letter to his city here, that is at once touching and somber.   Whilst he concentrates on his three female leads, the extra character is the city of Jakarta itself.  It really is a city of contrasts, its own traditions and culture being swallowed up by the influence of both the West and the rest of Asia.  Yet, if you look closely enough, all the old unique parts of it are still there.   Ridiculous and pretentious restaurants rub shoulders with street food.  Muslim Mosques are paired with Christian churches.  Social Media is rife and yet they inhabitants use BBM and Path, echoing the rest of the world, but still choosing their own implementation.

My only issues are ones of balance.  He focuses on his female characters, meaning the males (bar one) are not explored.  He also only shows us Jakarta at night, I would like to have seen more of the contrast with the day other than the opening montage.  The film also lacks a little drama, it is beguiling as a mood piece, but the gentle pace is a little soporific.

However, it is a gloriously films and well acted piece.  One of the stories totally talked to me, and I enjoyed the others.  I am going to give it a Recommended, although I suspect it will play better to the Indonesian diaspora and residents of Jakarta.

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