Fortune Favours the Brave – The Films of Luhki Herwanayogi

Adi Iskandar strikes gold with the films of Luhki Herwanayogi.

I didn’t much about Luhki Herwanayogi until recently, when, in supporting a friend’s attempt to enter the Busan Asian Film School, his name popped up amongst those selected. With him ostensibly representing Indonesia, I set out to find out more about Luhki and his works.

The first film I came across, ‘What Should I Do, Tweeps?’, tells the story of Didot (Satriyo Hanindhito), a teenager who appears to be a bit of a slacker.  He dreams of being a musician, and is in a relationship with Arista (Dini Arista Mardiani). Yet his laissez-faire approach to both leads to something of a dilemma between his dream girl and his dreams. The story picks one morning as Didot sends out a tweet upon waking up. This catalysed Arista to call him to complain for the sacrilegious act of greeting the world before he even wished her a good morning. The tension escalates, as Arista demands he accompany her to her medical appointment, at the same time he is meant to be present for band practice.

The film’s premise and execution is simple enough, being set primarily in Didot’s bedroom. The cast of characters are also fairly limited on screen, minimised to our protagonist and his brother (Arista is only heard through the phone call, and is not seen on camera). In terms of aesthetics, then, ‘What Should I Do, Tweeps?’ bears the technical hallmarks of someone in the beginning of their career, still developing and discovering their own aesthetics, though I do appreciate Luhki’s jump cuts here and there, maximising the film’s energy to reflect Didot’s own.

Digging a little deeper, ‘What Should I Do, Tweeps?’ communicated effectively about miscommunication. It may seem easy, but I don’t imagine this to be a walk in the park. The 10-minute film would have required a greater degree of creative exploration, packing in quite a lot in a short period of time. Admittedly, Luhki relies on a number of coincidences to take place within a short period of time, but that is a suspension of disbelief I am willing to make, as the conflation of events (the phone battery dying, for instance) is not necessarily beyond the realms of possibility.

The film also makes me question just how different people’s expectations of public and private spheres could be. Though it is not uncommon, I didn’t think how such issues may be elevated (or downgraded) to the stage where everything one person says could be deemed to be about only one thing. The term ‘putus’, for instance, literally means to break, but here, it is the connotation that becomes the primary mode of meaning-making, rather than the more direct denotation itself. The point I wish to make here is how there is a rearticulation of language and its meaning, in the manipulation of public/private discussions about relationships.

It led me to wonder what kind of film Luhki’s second film, ‘On Friday Noon’, would be like. This film tells the story of Wina (Satriyo Hanindhito again, marking a remarkable transformation from Didot in the previous film), who appears to be a transsexual sex worker rounded up by the authorities. She is on a truck, rumbling through a rough and empty terrain not dissimilar to those seen in ‘Marlina: Pembunuh Dalam Empat Babak’; if the colours are a littler warmer, I might have subconsciously kept an eye out for a woman stalking the roadside, carrying a severed head as she does so. With a start, Wina realises that it is Friday, and Muslim men are supposed to take part in mass prayers at noon. Some believe that missing it a few times in a row is akin to being expelled from the religion itself, and it is this conflict that forms the foundation for this film, as Wina attempts to flee the authorities and make her way to a mosque at the same time.

It almost goes without saying that the LGBTQIA+ context projected on-screen is something often frowned upon in Indonesia, an emotion which often mutates into something more militant. I am reminded of an interview we did with Yudho Aditya some time ago, whose own effort, ‘Pria’, charts a similar path in highlight the conflict that lies within a minority protagonist: “In fact, we had a discussion early on for the actors to use their own Indonesian accent so that no one could pinpoint exactly where we shot. They’re all very brave and really believe in how important it is to tell this story, so I’m really grateful.”

I am equally thankful that ‘On Friday Noon’ provides an important piece to the conversation, with a more religious and spiritual layer added to this rainbow cake. Going beyond that courage, it is the quality of the narrative and its telling that really stands out. If ‘What Should I Do, Tweeps?’ consisted largely of singular narrative elements (scenes, characters, etc.), this film is close to a 180-degree turn. For instance, we see a bigger supporting cast of characters, with an elderly lady manning a stall, random school kids and toilet supervisors all standing in for society at large. The kids stoning her recall a parable often associated with Jesus Christ, in which he admonished those who were stoning an adulteress: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” I am not sure whether that connection is one that Luhki intends, but it is one I am making all the same.

That could be applied to the following analysis. You must know that in praying, a Muslim is required to cover up their aurat (loosely translated as parts of the body that should not be exposed). For the male, this is often done with a sarong, something Wina was also looking for in her journey. This MacGuffin drives the plot further; she did eventually find one, but only in an abandoned house. Can we connect that to how those on the margins are seen to be at home only in surroundings beyond the mainstream milieu? That they are, if we are to see how such identities have been construed, disappointments to their family, wrecking the home from within? I am not suggesting at all that that is Luhki’s attempted portrayal, but within the narrative space provided, it seems like a discussion worth having and thinking about.

While the above may be more contextualised projections, I am on more certain ground as the film progresses, and Wina becomes more desperate. Having found the sarong, she makes her way to the mosque, but Akhmad Fesdi Anggoro, the editor, cuts rapidly, back and forth, crossing the 180 line at will with ever shorter intervals. It portrays Wina running to the left and right of the screen, expending a lot of energy in trying to get somewhere, even as she is, in this spiritual context, going nowhere.

This is further emphasised in the train scene, in which Wina is between two rail tracks, with trains on both sides passing quickly by. She is trapped in the middle, externalising the extreme depths of her emotions, as she is stuck in between, with nowhere to go and no one to turn to. This was set up by the prior scene, in which she was castigated for appearing to enter the wrong toilet. I am reminded of the ‘bathroom bill’ in the United States of America, in which that very issue of transsexuals having the freedom to use the toilet they feel most comfortable with was debated in high political places.

Indonesia, however, does not have as much of the same openness. Generally speaking, it is more comfortable in sticking its head in the sand, ignoring not only how members of the LGBTQIA+ community has been unfairly uprooted and marginalised from the centre, but also the regional history that proves how such diverse identities are more native than many may wish it to be. Much like ‘What Should I Do, Tweeps?’, ‘On Friday Noon’ provides another way in which we could (and perhaps should) rearticulate issues that connect both the private and the public sphere. Though both are very different films, what Luhki has done gives me hope that such expressions of art can lead to more constructive outcomes.

Find out more about Luhki at his website.

Featured image credit: Lifestyle Indonesia / Huffington Post

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