As a Jakarta-born film critic who’s lived in the US for more than half my life, it’s always thrilling to see a movie from my home country. Even more exciting when said film is directed by a woman and about women, specifically those living in a stifling patriarchal society.
The story is based on the first chapter of Ahda Imran’s novel that writer/director Kamila Andini adapted to the screen. Set in the 1960s when then General Suharto staged a violent coup against Indonesia’s first president Sukarno that led to the genocide of about 1 million people. Those who have seen the acclaimed documentary The Act of Killing should be familiar with Indonesia’s bloody history under the veil of anti-communism. Such gruesome atrocity isn’t entirely absent from Andini’s film. In fact, it happens in its opening scene when its protagonist Nana, with her infant child and her sister, are hiding from soldiers in the forest.
For the most part though, the horrors of war serve as Nana’s backstory… her father has been killed and her first husband (Ibnu Jamil) is MIA, which in times of war is synonymous with death. Nana has remarried a wealthy Sundanese plantation owner Mr. Darga and has been living a peaceful albeit tedious life for 15 years with their four children.
Darga often showers his wife with compliments and gifts, as if that would make up for his recurring bouts of infidelity. Nana has become adept in suffering in silence, as she constantly tells herself to ‘be like water, adapt to new situations.’ Happy Salma’s serenely expressive face conveys so much emotion without uttering a single word. As Nana slowly brushes her long silky hair, it’s evident that her comfortable life has become humdrum as she’s plagued with dreams/nightmares of her past and yearns for her lost love.
One day she discovers Darga’s new mistress, a local butcher named Ino (Laura Basuki) and the two finally meet during a party hosted by Nana herself. Instead of confronting Ino, the two end up becoming friends as they commiserate about their situation and their hope to be free. Basuki’s playful nature perfectly complements Salma’s reserved nature in this role. A particularly memorable scene of both women leaping off a cliff to water below, a not-so-subtle metaphor for breaking free. Salma and Basuki have such an electrifying rapport, brimming with mutual admiration and enigma, even as Nana opens up about her past to Ino. Ino becomes an unlikely ally to Nana, she even defends her from the local women’s circle’s sneering, condescending comments to her.
Andini keeps the pace deliberate, wallowing in melancholy and a deep sense of longing. The way the narrative often tethers between dreams and reality can be frustrating and beguiling in equal measure. Some might call it plodding but for me, there’s something mesmerizing in about its quiet elegance. Given my background, there’s definitely a sense of nostalgia as I watch the prominent display of Sundanese culture in the form of song and dance, even Arswendy Bening Swara as Darga showcases his dance chops a few times. Before Now & Then is definitely an aesthetically pleasing film, a treat for your eyes and ears, thanks to DP Batara Goempar’s beautiful cinematography and composer Ricky Lionardi’s evocative score.
Major reviewers have compared Andini’s style to Wong Kar-Wai and a few scenes seem to be a conscious homage to In The Mood For Love. But the talented filmmaker certainly has her own flair which deservedly gets noticed by major film festivals all over the globe. This is the first time I’ve seen Andini’s feature film but she’s definitely a filmmaker to watch and I hope to see more of her work.
Before Now & Then will be screening again at The Main Theatre, Minneapolis
on Fri, Apr 21st, 1:16 PM » Get Your Tickets!
8 thoughts on “#MSPIFF42 Review: Before Now & Then (2023) – a finely-crafted Indonesian period piece that’s mesmerizing in its quiet elegance”
OK, just added it to my watchlist.
Yes!! Glad to hear it 🎉
Great review! And so helpful to learn about Indonesian history and culture. I didn’t know you were from Jakarta Awesome!🌏🇮🇩✌️
Hello! Thanks for checking out my blog. Yes I am from Jakarta but I don’t get to watch many Indo films, so it’s great when I get the chance to see them on the big screen at film festivals 🙂
Encouraging that Indo films like Before Now & Then are reaching a more global audience.
Yes absolutely! It’s rare to see films from SE Asia getting recognized in North America, more so in Europe I think, but hope that would change.
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