The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Monday, June 06, 2011


Not a ghost of a chance for Cannes

Living overseas means few chances to see how the Indonesian film industry is progressing after decades of Soeharto’s scissors and suppression.

Are the newly liberated creative forces challenging the world with their passion and purpose, telling the Indonesia story as never before?

Is Jakartawood shaking Hollywood and Bollywood?

Back in the Big Durian and a chance to check the latest offering, Pocong Mandi Goyang Pinggul. Numerous translations present – take your pick: Shrouded Corpse Bathing while Hip Shaking, or Unstable Dancing Ghost takes a Bath.

Posters showed nubile maidens heading to the bathroom hoping to freshen up. Sub-text: They’ll be frightened out of their wits. And presumably their clothes.

The title was a mite off-putting – it hardly had the ring of The King’s Speech but sounded more cerebral than Kung Fu Panda 3. The advertising stressed the film had been made in Indonesia and Hollywood. So we got a few over-exposed stock shots of LA and a man in dark glasses who irons his own shirts, proving he’s a real bule (foreigner).
The storyline had promise. Grime and heavy metals come out of our taps, so a ghost would be logical. Rats use our drains as a turnpike, so why not a phantom of the pipes? The special effects might be fun.

Sadly the ghost never got into the shower. It appeared in bedrooms and hallways looking like a black-faced Ronald McDonald wearing a white sheet, about as scary as the neighbor’s maid asking for a cup of sugar.

The ghost also popped out of the fridge. This was a good health message, reminding the audience never to leave defrosted fish for more than a week.

There were a few other spooks but they lived in a graveyard, wore clean shrouds despite spending most time in the dirt, shaking their shimmering black locks, lovely as a shampoo commercial.

The happy news here is that even being interred shouldn’t mean a bad hair day.

The slapstick routines included a man chased up a ladder by a ghost, losing bladder control and saturating his pursuer. This had the audience wetting themselves with laughter.

A scene with a dwarf would have offended Western human rights activists, but making fun of the handicapped seems to be a national sport.

There must have been a plot, but maybe I blinked. People dancing in a disco, drinking like fishes and having a car accident. One patient’s face is like the inside of a papaya, but no matter a month later the survivor looks fine.

Our hero likes to Skype with Sasha, his girlfriend in California. This is Sasha Grey (aka Marina Hantzis), an American porn stardust who must be desperate for work now she’s turned 23 and started to droop.

The couple exchange heartfelt wit and wisdom: “I miss you.” “I miss you too.” Masochistic Sasha sits on hot leather sofas in a bikini so clearly she’ll come to a sticky end. She also leans forward a lot, presumably to satisfy the boyfriend who’s turned kinky since the accident.

His worried mum gets a private eye to check the lass. He finds her swimming alone in her luxury villa with the door open. As they do in California.

She can’t talk until she’s showered, which means undoing her top and the tap. The latter is more interesting, but sadly the ghost doesn’t appear – presumably lost somewhere in the plumbing on his way across the Pacific.

Is this burnt-bottom Sasha? No, that’s her deceased twin.

The film ended abruptly. Handphones switched off and couples started rearranging their clothing. More flesh was exposed inside the theater than on the screen.

Soft porn? This was mush porn, as erotic as a cold shower with a dancing ghost in Antarctica. As intellectually appetising as the leftovers in the frightener’s fridge.

Last year the same company produced The Menstruating Ghost of Puncak. To the producers’ delight this was condemned by the MUI – the Indonesian Council of Islamic Scholars.

So far the self appointed guardians of public morality have wisely refused to act as unpaid promoters and trash this film. It does the job well enough itself.

Take it easy, Cannes. The definitive Indonesian entry will be a while coming yet.

(First published in The Sunday Post 5 June 2011)


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