Fikri Jermadi peels back the layers of Gina S. Noer’s sensitive film on a sensitive issue.
Based on first impressions, I didn’t think I would want to watch ‘Dua Garis Biru’. Admittedly, that is based on a literal glance of its poster, whose image clearly identified a demographic to which I do not belong. Much of this bias stemmed from another Indonesian film, ‘My Generation’. Both films, at least superficially, appear to feature and target younger members of an upper-class origin; in a less charitable mood, the words ‘spoilt brats’ would spring to mind.
The trailer for ‘My Generation’ had featured a line, in which a parental character threatened to punish their child by sending them to Singapore instead of Australia. I failed to see then how someone being ‘banished’ to one of the world’s most affluent nations is a form of punishment. Without actually knowing the story, everything about ‘Dua Garis Biru’ meant that I had associated it with ‘My Generation’. Unfair? Yes, but film promotional materials are made to be judged, and my verdict is that with my limited time, it’s not something that’s is right up my street.
Then I went into the cinema, and I saw the trailer.
We follow the story of Bima (Angga Yunanda) and Dara (Zara JKT48), high school sweethearts in the final year of school. The brief opening scene shows how close and comfortable they are with each other. Sitting together in class, shots of their fingers touching is enough to highlight the intimacy between the two, enhancing a private love in a public space. This culminated in them having sex for the first time. Dara would become pregnant, but the tell-tale signs would only come later, becoming more obvious to those in the know.
That did not include Dara and Bima, however. They’re just kids, after all, students looking forward to the more superficial things in life. Bima is practically obsessed with playing video games, while Dara is a K-Popper who can’t wait to visit the country. As such, signs of pregnancy are dismissed as reactions against seafood (for instance). Of course, things eventually come to a head when they and their school, parents and respective communities discover the truth.
While the text above explains the cinematic text, we need an understanding of the context, for, as Amir Muhammad once said, no film is created in a vacuum. Often inaccurately identified as the largest Muslim country in the world (its constitution did not and does not proclaim a particular theistic affiliation), Indonesia is home to the largest population of people praying in the direction of Mekah five times a day (or at least we’re supposed to). While often exacerbated in the media, it is less inaccurate to consider its practice in the region as being ultra-conservative, veering more towards the greater good of the collective.
As such, anything running against such grains of sand (such as unmarried teenagers with child) is enough to provoke a moral panic. Engulfed in their own panic, Dara and Bima even contemplated abortion, a brief option on the table as the director, Gina S. Noer, ran through the gamut of choices. Though ostensibly a directorial debutant, she has an impressive body of work as a scriptwriter. In addition to writing the script for ‘Ayat-Ayat Cinta’, we had previously enthused about films such as ‘Posesif’. I had actually started to clap at the end of ‘Habibie dan Ainun’ (also written by her), before my wife forced me to stop (because it’s not the done thing in Indonesia, apparently). The point remains that this is someone who knows how many filmmaking beans in a row make five, and in terms of the narrative, this all adds up as she really ramped up the stakes.
Try being pregnant as a teenager. Try doing that while you’re in school. As a girl in a patriarchy. As a Muslim. As someone who’s partner is not in the same socio-economic strata as well; while Dara’s family lives a more comfortable life (in a big house with a swimming pool and all that jazz), Bima’s collar is bluer than the lines in the film’s title. Though his father (Arswendy Bening Swara) rules the roost as the head of local community, theirs is a financial situation that is drastic all the same. As Dara dreams of going off to Korea to further her studies and self, Bima may well have to make do with attending local universities, highlighting further the divide between the two.
Could this be the factor that accentuates their religiosity? We see plenty of scenes in which his father, mother (Cut Mini) and sister (Rachel Amanda) identify themselves as staunch Muslims. That pillar of faith they depend on seems to be tied up with their socio-economic status. In one scene, after they had finished their prayers, Bima’s mother wonders aloud whether Dara’s family look down on them because they are poor. “When we are poor, our dignity is all we have,” she sobs. Then again, she is only speaking the unspoken, hanging in the air like pregnant tension (pun intended) waiting to burst.
Speaking of the bigger picture discussion, I wonder whether Noer also wishes to say something about the education institutions of Indonesia. Upon discovering that Dara is pregnant, the school informed both sets of parents… before deciding to expel her. I had no idea that schools here can do that, and the sense of injustice is enhanced when it is revealed that Bima is actually given the choice to continue his studies. This sense of gender imbalance, though not entirely unexpected in such a patriarchal nation, begets a toxicity that angers.
Expanding on this further, perhaps this is also a hint at the failure of such bastions of knowledge to provide adequate information on sex and reproduction. Certainly in my own personal experience, in-class discussions on this topic amongst my college students are likelier to provoke sniggers rather than informed conversations; it’s incredibly disappointing when a 20-minute clip from John Oliver’s ‘Last Week Tonight’ proves to be more enlightening than anything many of my students came across in their previous education streams.
Having said all that, it is also where my favourite scene takes place, as Padri Nadeak’s camera floats continuously from one point to another in a single take. As we run through the gauntlet of emotions and consequences, both public and personal, the addition and subtraction of characters at different points of this scene made for a variety that is both meaningful and interesting. This is the multiple in a fixed singularity come to life, going from the very private (a conversation between a child and the parents) to the very public (the involvement of top-down authorities).
That all this was done in a single take means that the audience, in watching it, is also forced to change their experience, the long cut possibly encouraging them to hold in longer breaths in a very tense sequence. This is masterful filmmaking, and I am glad to have watched a courageous film made critical by the context of its making and reception.
Featured image credit: Healthline