Yogyakarta. Singer Cinta Ramlan appears convincing as a troubled, rebellious musician with a dark past in "Hush," the fourth and latest film by Djenar Maesa Ayu that premiered at the Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival on Friday (02/12).
Co-directed by Singaporean filmmaker Kan Lume, "Hush" is Djenar's first shot at the mockumentary format.
In a script written by Djenar, "Hush" follows Cinta as she begins her holiday in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, to escape the crowded Jakarta and find inspiration for her next work. In one of the earlier scenes, Cinta took off her flying outfit – all-black t-shirt and jogging pants – in front of people at the drop-off area at Lombok airport, revealing a vacation ensemble that she wore underneath – a tank top and a pair of denim shorts – and proclaimed to the camera that she feels free for being at her favorite holiday destination. The camera then follows her as she heads to the hotel, meets up with friends and hangs out at the bar.
As Cinta talks the audience through her life choices in sex, alcohol and drugs, she also slowly reveals some of the darkest chapters of her life. These include her time in prison, her two abortions, and the time she was molested as a child. The only clue that everything in the 90-minute film is fictional is the fact that Djenar and Lume submitted "Hush" in the fiction category at the film festival.
Djenar and Lume said they intended to blur the line between fiction and reality in "Hush" as people no longer consider reality a strong enough factor to create a change.
"A film shouldn't be just about a technical achievement. It should be a voice. Films should not just be something entertaining and then you can just leave. It should stick with you and make you want to change in your own little ways," Lume said.
Lume said he understands the boundaries between a fictional drama and a documentary, but he insisted that the story of "Hush" is not fiction.
"These are real stories. Maybe you know someone [who went through this], or maybe you experience it. If I classify this film as fiction and it does not give you the same impact [compared to if the movie was submitted in the documentary category], you need to redefine your definition of fiction," he said.
Cinta, who has two albums under her belt, said she was doubtful at first to take on the project because she thought the role was a huge challenge and required a different kind of acting.
"I had my doubts, because I had to look real; I practiced numerous times so I could tell the story as naturally as I can," she said. "My family was concerned too, they were afraid people would think this film tells the true story of my life."
In the end, she surrendered herself to the project, went through a month of quarantine with Djenar to practice the script, and focused on bigger things.
"I decided to take on the role because I feel the film has an important message to say," she said.
Djenar said she feels thankful for casting Cinta in "Hush" as she could not find a better person to play the role. They first worked together in "Ratu" ("Queen"), a single in her 2014 album "Disko" ("Disco").
"I applause Cinta for taking this project, because she literally lent us her body and her life to be able to tell this story," she said.
Djenar said she wants to consistently raise women's issues in her work because violence against women just keeps on happening.
"This is not about men or women, or men being the criminals and women as victims. It is about the system. We are all victims of the system, of the structure, where men are taught to be the breadwinner and women to take care of the family. It is a wrong kind of construction," she said.
She said she also realized "Hush" only represents the tip of the iceberg of victims, particularly middle-class women in urban areas.
"I fully realize that victims from lower social backgrounds are the most silenced ones, but for me, to be able to speak up about victims in big cities is difficult enough," she said.
Djenar said she does not want to jump into something that she does not understand yet, and is hoping that she would be able to create a work of art that will represent voices from those in the lower rungs of society one day.