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Where did the idea for this new film, Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas, come from?
In 2015, I read this book by Eka Kurniawan. The experience of reading it was very visual – a very funny book, dry humor. I had been wanting to try something new outside of my comfort zone, which is exploring genre – specifically this certain popular genre of Indonesian action films, and this book was absolutely the perfect story setting.
One of the most engaging and powerful aspects of the film is precisely the concentration of events that unfold throughout the film. And yet, almost ironically, it all stems from a situation of impotence?
The opening line of the novel says: “Only guys who can’t get hard, fight with no fear of death.”
Violence is intertwined in the construction of masculinity. The main character, Ajo Kawir’s violent impulses are tied directly to his impotence. He cannot have sex, therefore he must fight, an overcompensation to state his masculinity. It comes full circle when we also learn that Ajo’s impotence was specifically caused by an act of brutality against a woman.
The social historical setting of this film (late 80s, early 90s in Indonesia, the height of Suharto’s New Order regime) is a culture that prizes masculinity. I grew up in this era, and it was puzzling to me, horrifying to the point of comical - the hypermasculine, militaristic culture that was normalized during those times and how it became a fertile ground for injustice and violence for generations to come.
Your films have often challenged certain prejudices linked to more traditional Indonesian political-religious realities. How difficult is it today to preserve your creative freedom?
I don't want to dwell too much on the difficulties. I believe we can always find a fun way to challenge censorship with the power of cinema and storytelling.
What is your opinion of the contemporary auteur film scene in South-East Asia?
SEA cinema is very young and full of energy. Censorship, dictatorships, colonialism, human rights violations as well as education are themes that I see in most SEA cinema. Within the diverse SEA cultures, I expect a lot of fresh perspectives on these issues. I love learning from every voice and hope there will be more and more to come.
How important have international festivals been in your artistic career?
Aside from the joy of sharing my films with a new audience, film festivals for me are an education. Meeting the international community, I am exposed to new thoughts and aesthetics; I always discover and rediscover so much as a filmmaker, as an audience, as a human being.
Interview by Lorenzo Buccella