I don’t know how much ‘Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly’ cost its makers. It doesn’t seem to be a particularly complex production, in terms of the production design and artistic direction. I don’t know how much the director, Edwin, gets from this film, nor do I know the amount of financial remuneration that the respective cast and crew members get to take home after the final ‘WRAP!’ of the final film. I don’t know how much money the producer put in eventually, taking into account the marketing costs of the film, or even how much money it will make. I can, however, make a very good and estimated guess, that a big amount of the production costs towards the rights to use one song. More specifically, Stevie Wonder will wake up one morning to find plenty of Indonesian rupiah notes lined up in his pockets for Edwin’s constant usage of ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’.
Mind you, perhaps that’s not the most accurate of descriptions. Given that the film is also well-supported by the Hubert Bals Fund Award (at times, I can’t help but run it through my mind as Hubert’s Balls…), I suppose we could also say that Mr Wonder also made quite a fair amount of Dutch guilders along the way.
Nevertheless, I digress. This is supposed to be a review of ‘Blind Pig’, rather than a collection of international currency ruminations and juvenile jokes. In fact, there’s not many of these in ‘Blind Pig’. There is, however, a pretty cool opening shot of a badmintion match. The match moves, almost in slow-motion (but not quite), but the most interesting aspect about it is the lack of any sound whatsoever. I was reminded of an excellent article that I read about how the lack of sound can be an important storytelling tool. The sudden audio inclusion, then, of a shuttlecock being smashed, shatters the built-up tension with aplomb. Such is the story of ‘Blind Pig’: a film that builds up a number of different stories, before breaking them down all over again.
The synopsis, at least, makes this clear. We follow the trials and tribulations of many different people feeling somewhat hesitant about their own identity. There is the national badmintion champion (Verawati), a Chinese-Indonesian, who decided to retire from playing after people continued to question whether she is Chinese or Indonesian in nature. It is her in the opening match of the film, and it is her that a little boy was referring to during the match against Chinese, “Which one is the Indonesian player?”
The badminton player is married to Halim (Pong Harjatmo), a blind dentist. I thought that something was up when he is seen wearing sun glasses even when checking a patient’s teeth. That peculiarity was confirmed when he switched on the radio, playing the aforementioned Stevie Wonder song. The irony of a blind dentist playing a song performed by a blind singer did not quite escape me. It nearly did, though; the dentist’s enthusiasm in singing along to the lyrics was infectious, and the girl sitting next to me quietly eyed me as I softly sang along as well. In my defense, she sang along, too.
It is a song that Salma (Andhara Early) is also keen on singing on a more serious level: that of a reality TV show. Even more seriously, she wants to get married to Halim and have his babies. It is, perhaps, a means to an end, or perhaps an end in itself. Whatever it is, she knows exactly what she wants, and how to get it. Through Halim, she hopes to have all of her dreams come true.
Halim also has dreams of his own, the big one being accesibility to the West. He wants to move to the United States, a state of being that Helmi (Wicaksono) and Yahya (Joko Anwar), two former bureaucrats, has promised for him, should he be able to do something in return for them. In the most direct way possible, the title may apply most accurately to Halim. The price he has to pay in order to get there, however, is steep.
Linda (Ladya Cheryll), his daughter, isn’t really interested in all of these issues. What she is interested in is…firecrackers. It is a passion that she shares with her childhood friend Cahyono (Carlo Genta) who suffers from the discrimination that comes with the territory of being a Chinese in Indonesia. Not unlike Malaysia, who also like her races simply defined, the fact that he’s actually Japanese-Menadonese didn’t really register with the majority. who caused him plenty of problems. He works as an video editor, and it’s equally interesting to note what it is that he is editing at times: videos of the Indonesian reformation in 1998. It is a reflection of the generation that the director himself grew up in. In this regard, perhaps the Cahyono is the character closely defined to the director himself.
In the middle of all this, Opa, Linda’s grandfather, is living rather happily with himself. He has simple needs, a fulfilment satisfied by paying pool with his friends. Linda seeks his advice regularly, and his responses provides the only link this film has with the generations past. He even quotes , reflecting the nation’s previous link with their Dutch masters.
In many ways, then, this film is something of a multi-pronged approach towards one, central idea: that of national identity. Call it ‘Love Actually’, if you will, but without much of the love, actually. It is an idea that is complex and multi-layered in any country, but especially so with a country like Indonesia. Perhaps therein lies the reason for such an approach. With such a context, it could have easily turned political. Instead, it remained personal. I like how we are given time with each character, to see how their own personal feelings develop. Credit must be given to the actors, then, for managing to exact the right amount of subtlety in their respective performances (and to the director for controlling that; it can be a tricky thing). One particularly telling scene was when the dentist revealed to his wife that he wants to take on another. In another film, pots and pans may have flown about the place. Here, the only reaction was the lack of one, and yet it is the most telling of them all. The scene where Linda eats a firecracker is also something that provoked something within me. Explosive stuff, I’d say.
Is it, however, the truth? Could all this be a reality that is facing a lot of Chinese people in Indonesia. From the outside, Indonesia has constantly been held up as a prime example of how to integrate the different races together. I didn’t quite think that all is ever rosy. After all, I’ve realised that when it comes to race and religion, no country in the world fits the square peg nicely into the round hole. Nevertheless, this becomes almost irrelevant; Edwin is clear in his ideas and in the story. Far more importantly, he is also clear in the means of the idea.
For example, Edwin chucks in a scene with a blind pig tied up to a pole. We’ve had our dose of the subtle and not so subtle…now here comes the metaphor. In that regard, then, ‘Babi Buta’ is arguably the clearest film that I’ve seen for a very long time. The message, the director’s intent, the subtleness, the in-your-face imagery…it is unmistakeable. “How should we, in reality, really know how to be a true Indonesian?” Edwin asks in his director’s statement. “Or whether it is necessary at all to be a true Indonesian?”
An ambitious thought from an ambitious director. ‘Babi Buta’ may not fly all that well (i.e. not make much money), but I can think of a few who would benefit from chewing this thought. Perhaps, then, in some small way, the film can contribute towards a healthier world not just in Indonesia, but also beyond it.
After all, if pigs could fly…
Despite scouring high and low, Fikri couldn’t find a decent copy of the film’s poster. So you’ll have to make do with the dynamite hotdog instead.