Numbers of short and long films by an award-winning director Garin Nugroho will be screened at the Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival in Yogyakarta, Central Java from Nov. 27 to Dec. 4. (Photo courtesy of JAFF)

From Avant-Gardist to Festival Darling: Garin Nugroho

NOVEMBER 26, 2018

Jakarta. Award-winning director Garin Nugroho, one of Indonesia's most prominent avant-garde directors, will have a majority of his oeuvre screened at the 13th Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival in Yogyakarta starting tomorrow until Dec. 4.

Garin’s first feature film "Cinta Dalam Sepotong Roti" ("Love in a Slice of Bread"), released in 1991,  arguably began a "new wave" of Indonesian cinema.

A poetic road movie, the film expressed some of the youth angst of a new generation growing up under Soeharto’s repressive Orde Baru (New Order) regime.

It won Best Film at the 1991 Indonesian Film Festival (FFI or Piala Citra, Indonesia's Oscars) and Garin later won Best Young Director at the Asia Pacific Film Festival.

International recognition came thick and fast for Garin after his debut. He soon became a festival darling, with his works having been shown at the Singapore Film Festival, Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival and Tokyo International Film Festival, among others.

Garin's other films that will be screened at JAFF this year include "Surat Untuk Bidadari" ("Letter for an Angel"), "Puisi Tak Terkuburkan" ("A Poet"), "Aku Ingin Menciummu Sekali Saja" ("Birdman Tale"), "Opera Jawa" ("Requiem From Java") and a new film, "Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku" ("Memories of My Body").

"[Garin's] works transgress cinematic boundaries," JAFF chairman Budi Irawanto said in a statement on Monday (26/11).

Budi also said that Garin should be applauded for his tireless effort to nurture young talents.

"Garin likes to involve young filmmakers in his movies. Many of our filmmakers now were once his assistants," Budi said.

Young people can also learn a lot about critical periods in Indonesian history from Garin’s films.

The Dutch colonial period was the setting for "Guru Bangsa: Tjokroaminoto" ("Hijra," 2015), "Setan Jawa" ("Javanese Devil," 2016) and "Nyai" ("A Woman From Java," 2017).

His biopic of the first native Indonesian archbishop Albertus Soegijapranata, "Soegija" (2012), was set during the Japanese occupation just before the declaration of independence in 1945.

"A Poet" (2000), dealt with the aftermath of the 1965-1966 mass killings of Indonesian communists.

His harrowing portrayal of street kids, "Daun di Atas Bantal" ("Leaf on a Pillow," 1998), meanwhile seemed to have presaged the collapse of the Orde Baru regime.

Garin is also responsible for perhaps the best Indonesian response to the post-9/11 era, carefully analyzing the spread of radicalism in Indonesia with his three-part essay film "Mata Tertutup" ("The Blindfold," 2013), which at once managed to be both sympathetic and critical toward Islam.

Garin continued to keep up with the zeitgeist with his most recent film, "Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku" ("Memories of My Body," 2018) – in competition at the Venice International Film Festival in September – by depicting the struggle of sexual minorities in Indonesia.

Budi noted that Garin's pre-Reformasi films were more concerned with "the aesthetics," making visual symbolisms their forte.

The characters in Cinta Dalam Sepotong Roti sometimes even speak in lines of poetry lifted from the works of romantic poet Sapardi Djoko Damono.

Garin's predilection for experimentalism led many critics to condemn his films for being too "symbolic and poetic" for local taste, leaving audiences befuddled instead of enlightened despite their best intentions.

Lately though, Garin’s films have become increasingly political and more straightforward, as he engaged passionately with social and political upheavals.

Daun di Atas Bantal, Mata Tertutup and Rindu Kami PadaMu ("Of Love and Eggs", 2004, which tells interwoven stories of different characters in a traditional market) even have an almost documentary feel to them.

But thanks to his latent avant-gardism – Setan Jawa is a silent movie shown with live gamelan – critics always find ammunition to accuse him of pandering to highbrow international audiences at film festivals.

Budi said the criticisms are merely proof that Garin's films have always been "ahead of his time."