Adi Iskandar considers issues of social discipline and generation divide in Muhammad Bilal’s film.
‘SMART?’ begins on the morning of an important day for our lead character, Shabrina (Salsa Chairul). A high school student, the day is an important one: it would be the announcement of her final high school examination results. She is woken by the constant nagging of her mother (Yarsih Yarnih), who thought she needed to be at school to collect them. Shabrina informs her that it will be delivered home, hinting at the generation gap between the two. She then inexplicably damaged her own phone, which leads to her asking her parents for a new one, refusing to open the announcement letter until she gets one.
On the surface, then, Shabrina seems like a spoilt brat symptomatic of a generation of young airhead know-it-alls, a feeling reinforced by their smartphones. In Indonesia, they’re often colloquially referred to as ‘anak jaman now’ (loosely translated as ‘kids these days’). Of course, the idea of holding one’s own parents for a new phone may seem excessively materialistic, but based on my own experience as an educator in Indonesia, such stories are not unheard of. Indeed, there is even one such story floating around the office that fits this bill perfectly, with a student refusing to come to class without her mother buying her the latest iPhone.
There is that moral interplay, then, between depicting a kind of reality and sermonising about it. On the one hand… yes, it does happen. On the other, it also reflects a perspective of the youth being very superficial and wasteful, preferring to spend all their time with their phones. Several scenes in ‘SMART?’ do more than just hint at this approach, with the film’s ending suggesting a narrative arc founded on the imposition of a certain morality. What do you want to call this? Taubat cinema? Whatever it is, there is a strong sense of social disciplining going on here.
However, it could be argued that this is a timely tale, with the director, Muhammad Bilal, also raising issues related to digital presence and privacy. Shabrina, having posted of her whereabouts on social media, is soon accosted by uninvited admirers. Without going into too much details for fear of spoiling the film, it is a part of the film that got my Spider-Sense tingling. It may well have been something crafted for a film, but much like the above, I can imagine such scenes occurring in real life; it is worrying to see how Shabrina (and those like her) may not consider as much the pitfalls of sharing everything on social media for the sake of a few more likes and followers.
It is also a little concerning to note the lack of the father (perhaps even connoting a father’s lack). The mother makes herself impossible to miss in her own scenes, even if she remains highly domesticated (I don’t recall seeing her outside of their home). Yet the father, ostensibly occupied by business interests, is heard only on the line, acceding to Shabrina’s wishes for a new phone. He is present only through his absence, a malleable personality lacking enough authority to assert a stronger sense of discipline; it is made ironic by Indonesia’s deeply patriarchal society.
Such discussions of power dynamics may paint the picture of a bleak film. This is far from the truth, for ‘SMART?’ is a bright and breezy film, with its running time of 25 minutes possibly positioning it as an episode of a comedy series. Granted, some of the humour may be overwrought, but it is likelier than I am not a part of the target audience. Who would be? Perhaps some of the SCTV crowd, steeped in the accumulation of Indonesian drama cultural capital, would perhaps find it a fun film to experience.
Much of this can be put down to the work of Ananda Nino Sagitario. Responsible for the graphics used in the film, he has created a series of pop-ups which appear, primarily when characters use their phones, putting on screen what the characters are seeing. In my opinion, it is quite well done, making it feel as if we are indeed in the shoes of those we see on screen. Additionally, there are also minor modifications made here and there, with perhaps the funniest being ‘Ukuran XL’ standing in for the Indonesian telco. These minor details add a light comedy touch, which I appreciate.
All in all, ‘SMART?’ is a bright and breezy film to watch. I may have inferred more than it implied, and it may not hit all the sweet spots aimed for (with some bits being a little cringeworthy for me). However, the film’s aesthetics and comedic effort more than make up for it; if you are a part of the film’s target audience, much like Shabrina, you may get more than what you bargained for.
Check out the film’s behind the scenes images on Instagram.
Featured image credit: Cristian Dina / Pexels