At a time when the Indonesian film scene is dominated by serious dramas, the absurd world of “Madame X” is a breath of fresh air. From start to finish, the film is full of eccentric characters, bizarre moments and outlandish situations. Exposing the effervescent urban lives of effeminate hairdressers, while highlighting traditional art and dance and even offering sharp sociopolitical commentary, “Madame X” is an absurd yet vibrant portrait of contemporary society.
While Lucky Kuswandi’s debut film is an entertaining comedy, it also addresses the pressing social issues of the day for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community in Indonesia.
When a faraway nation is threatened by the potential reign of a tyrannical and homophobic presidential candidate, Kanjeng Badai (Marcell Siahaan), an unlikely mascara-wielding hero, Adam (Aming) must fulfill his destiny as Madame X.
Adam’s equally odd squad, including ex-military-officer, Oom Rudi (Robby Tumewu) and dance instructor, Tante Yantje (Ria Irawan) stand by “her” during the battle against prejudice and evil.
Combating stereotypes, powerful political forces, and their own personal issues, can the team succeed in bringing peace to the otherwise doomed nation?
The film, shot in Yogyakarta and Jakarta, is a collaboration between director Lucky, producer Nia Dinata, and lead star Aming. “The idea actually first came from Aming,” Lucky said.
Though this is Lucky’s first feature film, the young director is no stranger to making quality films.
He previously wrote and directed critically acclaimed documentaries “At Stake” and “Still.” Lucky was brought into the project by producer Nia, after the two worked together on “At Stake.”
Nia, who is also a celebrated director, has already produced several films by young directors, including Joko Anwar and Dimas Djayaningrat.
Already established as a comic, Aming seems the perfect choice to step into Madame X’s high-heeled shoes. “We wrote the character especially for him. No one else could have pulled it off,” Lucky said.
The flamboyant costumes — think glitter, two-inch platforms and tight leather suits — add artistic flair to the witty script and the great acting, creating an aesthetically powerful movie experience.
The wardrobe was designed by a talented team, including Indonesia’s fashion prodigy, Jeffry Tan. In total, there were 52 looks that were designed especially for the film.
But Madame X’s fighting outfit was designed by Aming himself, who is a textile design graduate of the Institute of Technology Bandung.
The film’s aesthetic appeal is enhanced by the combination of traditional martial arts from Padang and sensual dance from Betawi, as well as cutting-edge digital effects.
But “Madame X” is a great deal more than action and fashion. Though the filmmakers insist that the faraway nation of “Madame X” is not Indonesia, the film incorporates some familiar antics.
One example is the shamanistic power of Bunda Lilies, who uses the elaborate flowing sleeves of her robe to cast spells on her opponents. Another is the hilarious portrayal of the chaotic election times which are so characteristic of the new democracy.
Finally, there is the all-too-familiar threat of a military-backed dictator.
As Madame X fights her way through the villages of the faraway nation, the film highlights the social and political issues that plague Indonesia.
What the film’s eclectic characters have in common, other than perhaps a misplaced sense of self-grandeur, is that they represent minority groups in the Indonesia of today.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community for the most part has not been accepted by the relatively conservative, mainstream Indonesian society.
Hidden from the public eye, or, worse, ridiculed, LGBTs have established a separate but very unique community.
“Some people still think these issues are taboo, but we need to address them, not hide them and pretend they don’t exist,” Marcell said.
With all the different characters, the world of “Madame X” may be completely ridiculous, but it is a diverse and multicultural one. “We believe that everyone is equal. Anyone can be a superhero,” Nia said.
One and a half years in the making, “Madame X” is ready to take Indonesia by storm on Oct. 7.
The audience can expect to be thoroughly dazzled, or at least utterly confused.
Seriously, though, with character names like Kinky Amalia, do you need more convincing?