The Conjunction – Posesif

Bitter, sweet, and bittersweet, Fikri Jermadi is captivated by ‘Posesif’, directed by the first person he knows to have only one name.

Prior to the screening of ‘Posesif’, the cinemas screened a number of film trailers. One of them is ‘My Generation’, a film which features prominently the issue of youth emancipation. What was promoted at its core appears to be a struggle by young people, as they seek a life of satisfaction and pleasure, juxtaposed against an overarching narrative of helicopter parenting, an impossible standard against which self-worth and value is measured. I begin this write up by focusing on another film’s trailer because of the uncanny similarity in the thematic approach. This shall be discussed following the following paragraph.

‘Posesif’ tells the story of Lala (Putri Marino) and Yudhis (Adipati Dolken), two high school students who meet and are almost immediately attracted to one another. Lala is a dedicated model student, someone trusted by her schoolmates, teachers and father, while training to be selected to represent Indonesia in the sport of aquatic diving. Yudhis is initially portrayed as the bad boy from the other side of the tracks, the charming one your mother warned you about. However, a more complicated family picture would reveal itself later on, as his comfortably socio-economic background would also bring to its fore his mother (Cut Mini Theo). Initially a relationship of carefree fun, Lala and Yudhis would eventually grow to become something else beyond what they expected, as witnessed not only by their family, but also by Lala’s friends, Ega (Gritte Agatha) and Rino (Chicco Kurniawan).

I must admit that the film’s promotion and marketing efforts initially did not fly with me, primarily in catching my attention. It carries with it an air of popcorn romantic comedy, given the film’s good-looking cast members, colourful poster and infusion of popular music into the trailer. It is only when I noticed that the film’s director is Edwin that I sat up and took a closer look. While I am not as familiar with all of his films, I am aware of at least a number of them, such as ‘Babi Buta yang Ingin Terbang’, a film that deals with the Chinese self-identification process in the Indonesian context. My impression is that he is one who is keen on stories of those on the margins, as they struggle against the subjugation of the mainstream. This film runs against that grain, its initially bright contours contradicting my idea of Edwin as the quintessential globe-trotting, film festival-touring director with his repertoire of edgy stories.

Now that I’ve seen this film, I realise that much of the above, while initially thought of as inaccurate, is a lot closer than I would think. ‘Posesif’ may well carry an image of a teen love story, but at its heart is an important story, whose locus features the issue of violence against women, especially those committed at a younger and earlier age; while the relationship between Lala and Yudhis would begin on the right foot, so to speak, sooner rather than later, Yudhis betrays a possessive streak, one that is fired by raging jealousy and immature insecurity. He would, for instance, come to view Rino as a big threat, with the slightest mention of his name enough for him to fly into a violent fit.

What’s important to note here is that the violence is not necessarily physical, as is the wont of us to think. Some of that may manifest itself in certain scenes, but there is a fear engendered simply through the utilisation of his words and smoldering looks. It’s surprising how a slight shift in perspective is enough to make Adipati Dolken appear more menacing than I thought possible. At the same time, his characterisation also upends much of the stereotype of the emotional woman. I had entered the film’s screening expecting that, and was treated instead to its opposite.

That’s not to say that Lala herself is a character without problems. Her father, being both her coach and the single parent, carries out his parenting duties with a blurring of the lines, being more forcefully strict on her. Perhaps a part of that is a fear of accused and perceived favouritism, a drive which ends up driving the two of them even further apart. A mirror image this can be seen in Yudhis’ relationship with his mother. Both him and Lala are deprived of the so-called normal family unit, a situation which creates undue pressure on all involved, and are dealt with in different ways; while Lala is sharpened into an athlete by her father’s professional precision, Yudhis is smothered in a motherly love so tight it becomes suffocating. Later scenes would result in such processes being considered in a more critical sense.

That is the connection to the paragraph above. ‘My Generation’, as a film, has come under much fire, precisely because of its depiction of teenage desires and wishes for self-emancipation. I must admit that I myself am not exempt from this; though later discussions with my students would render a slightly different opinion, mine is very much one aligned along the ‘a film by spoilt brats for spoilt brats’ track. ‘Posesif’ takes a more mature approach, a higher ground which renders the issue of relationship violence more serious for us to take and consider. I am reliably informed that such relationships are unfortunately not uncommon, and while I am not sure of the breadth and depth with which Indonesian cinema has dealt with this matter, I believe this film remains an important entry in this field.

Beyond that, the film as a whole is simply captivating. It held my attention from beginning to the end, with effective economy in terms of camera angles, movement and editing. The presence of Chicco Kurniawan is also a delight. Having seen him in ‘Pria’ (which Edwin was also involved in), it is pleasant to see him make the step up to feature films. What is also a great storytelling tool is the song, ‘Dan’, by Sheila on 7. Its lyrics helps to accentuate parts of the film’s narrative, and the inclusion in some of the film’s diegesis (and transition out of it) makes for a nice touch.

In many respects, that song is one that helps to encapsulate the film as a whole. The song begins with a conjunction (its eponymous title), which is something I tell my students never to do in an academic setting. This is not that setting, though, and the artistic license puts us right in the middle of the action and emotion, rather than having to necessarily build up to it. There’s much of this film that does the same, as Edwin spirits us quickly through the film’s formative stages to situate us as close to the action as possible.

Overall, this is a film that invites its viewers in with a very slick approach not out of place with other films featuring teenage characters in love. Once we’re quickly there, however, we are invited to ruminate more critically on a serious issue I believe to be underreported in the film scene and elsewhere, even though there appears to be a strong undercurrent of this bubbling beneath the surface for a while. Especially when this is exhibited in a post-Weinstein era, I believe the informed audience can’t help but be involved in such issues represented not only on screen, but also off it. In that regard, I went in with my eyes closed, and came out enlightened as Edwin repeats his trick, telling an edgy story indeed of those subjugated against more powerful forces.

Featured image credit: Pexels

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