Manning Up – Pria

Fikri Jermadi is excited about Yudho Aditya’s ‘Pria’. This is why.

I have written somewhat extensively on the career of Yudho Aditya, with an especial focus on his short films. His latest, and probable cherry on the cake that is filmography thus far is entitled ‘Pria’, which was referenced in that previous write up. While this is indeed a review of that film, it is also a form of buzz, because I am most definitely excite by its potential.

‘Pria’ tells the story of a young man, Aris (Chicco Kurniawan), who lives in a rural town in Indonesia. In school, he is taught by Peter (Jacob McCarthy), a Caucasian outsider who shares his experiences with the class as whole, intoxicating Aris with ideas of life outside of Indonesia. It doesn’t help that Aris (who may be a closeted homosexual at the time, even if others hinted that they know of his sexual preference), is betrothed to another, a girl named Gita (Gladys Syahutari). This limits further the space in which his identity can be expressed.

As a whole, this film is incredibly subtle and interesting. Relative to a number of his other films (like ‘Midnights with Adam’, for instance), it feels like much of Yudho’s previous directness is reigned in, and that lends to a bigger space in which the audience themselves are far more involved in interacting with the characters. An example of this is seen in the scene where the character is dancing in front of the mirror, free and joyful, accompanied by little more that an uplifting soundtrack.

Very abruptly, then, just as we are drawn in, Yudho cuts directly to the next scene of Aris getting a haircut. In contrast to his previous exuberance, there is a pained expression on his face. It’s a part of him, a natural growth that is normal, being cut to pieces, most probably against his will. To evince a deeper meaning here, this scene is indicative of the part of himself he had to get rid of, in order to fit into society, and that any moments of happiness are brief and fleeting in nature.

That society is key here, for Indonesia (not unlike a number of other Southeast Asian countries) was and remains a very complex nation when dealing with identities alternate to the mainstream. Despite not necessarily and fully outlawing expressions of homosexuality (as opposed to, say, Malaysia), there remains a largely negative attitude a lot of people would retain in discussing that very topic. Recent events have borne this out, with the latest news showing how the state deals with this very same subject matter.

In that regard, great credit is due not only to Yudho, but also to his cast and crew members for persevering in the telling of this story. One would suspect that Yudho himself faced great difficulties in setting this up behind the scenes. Searching for the right cast members, for instance, in not only bringing out the right level of skill and experience in their performance, but also in being brave enough to work on this film, may well have been a supreme undertaking in its own right.

The presence of Peter as the protagonist’s love interest also raises questions on a deeper, more post-colonial level, so to speak. Again, not unlike other countries in the region, Indonesia still deals with much of the post-colonial dilemma as a result of its fractured past brought about by the arrival of foreigners (primarily white Europeans). Such a presence clashes and collides with what is now promoted as more eternally natural values, one that runs smoothly with mainstream Islamic ideals. Simply put, homosexuality (and other forms of such sexualities) has, for the longest time, been promoted as something that is not of this region, a Western ideal and idea brought about to local contexts with disastrous consequences.

This is, of course, ignoring the various forms of sexualities that have existed in this part of the world for many years (even prior to the spreading of colonial influence). The works of Farish A. Noor, an anthropologist based in Singapore, have borne this out time and again, suggesting that perhaps that which is considered vagrant is in fact more prevalent, ‘natural’ and domestic that contemporary commentators may wish to suggest; while I am not entirely sure that it is Yudho’s intention to do so, ‘Pria’ can be seen as a film which attempts to reclaim much of this lost autonomy. It is progressive against current currents by reflecting (a part) of its past.

That analysis may be a little far-reaching, and I have no doubt that it will certainly be lost on some. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see a filmmaker offer a more creative take on what is a very serious life issue, one that has driven others to more negative consequences.

More to the point, what ‘Pria’ has done is to do what Yudho has been doing all this while: to strip away much of the superficial and focus on a more universal core. I previously wrote that he has successfully represented human beings as humans in his previous films, and this assessment is not inaccurate for this film either. In engaging with the local context, he added to it, allowing for lovers of Indonesian cinema (which is already more open than many to begin with) to accept another entrant in its rich and colourful landscape.

Funny how it always seems to take an outsider to do that…

We previously wrote about Yudho’s works here, and will be publishing an exclusive interview with the director soon. To find out more about the film, check its website.

Featured image credit: Berita Daerah

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