Gunawan Maryanto as Wiji Thukul in 'Istirahatlah Kata-Kata.' (Image courtesy of Limaenam Films)

'Istirahatlah Kata-Kata' Depicts Wiji Thukul's Fear, Isolation


JANUARY 19, 2017

Jakarta. "Istirahatlah Kata-Kata" ("Solo Solitude") is a quiet and poetic confrontation with a dark chapter in Indonesian history. It follows poet and activist Wiji Thukul while in hiding after the July 27, 1996 riot, which saw hundreds of people being injured and more than 200 protesters arrested.

Starring theater actor Gunawan Maryanto as Wiji and television presenter Marissa Anita as Wiji's wife Sipon, "Istirahatlah Kata-Kata" begins at the time when the Indonesian government accused the People's Democratic Party (PRD) of having engineered the 1996 riot.

Wiji, who is a star orator at street rallies, with his poems often used by political protesters to help them express their criticism of the government, is named a suspect, along with other activists. This forces him to flee his home town of Solo in Central Java to Pontianak, West Kalimantan, where he hides out for eight months. During this time, Wiji must lay low and change his identity. Meanwhile, his wife Sipon must be the breadwinner for their two children as they live under state surveillance.

Wiji is declared missing in May 1998, after Sipon lost contact with him for several weeks. A few weeks later, Suharto steps down as president after 32 years in power.

Scriptwriter and director Yosep Anggi Noen refuses to press all the familiar buttons biographical pictures are known for by selecting a specific period in Wiji's life as the focus of this film. Thus, the film is very clear in its intention, which is not a grand and complete portrayal of how a public figure was born and lived, but an exploration of the fear someone experiences while being persecuted for his work and political views.

Brave, attentive, yet terrified and subdued at times, Gunawan gives one of the strongest performances in a leading role in Indonesian cinema in the past year. His Wiji is a complex state of emotional being. Gunawan also presents a very natural speech defect, which was a known feature of Wiji. Anger, confusion, sorrow and an endless longing are all presented by Marissa as the other side of the story. While Wiji is on the run, Sipon and her children are dealing with their own version of seclusion as a consequence of constant surveillance by both the Indonesian military and nosy neighbors.

Striking in its depiction of humanity, "Istirahatlah Kata-Kata" is not to be missed. The 97-minute drama is not a pleasant ride, as fear never is, but it is a close and effective look at the human condition and how fear is used as a weapon by a political regime to protect its interests. "Istirahatlah Kata-Kata" also features some of Wiji's poems, mostly delivered through a gentle voice-over, which adds a beautiful depth to the fright and isolation rendered in the film.

"Istirahatlah Kata-Kata" opens in a limited number of Indonesian movie theaters on Thursday (19/01). English subtitles are available.