Is it worth the effort to release a film in Indonesia during the Ramadan holy month?
For a long time, Ramadan has been considered not the best time for filmmakers to release new movies. Cinemas see attendance rates drop drastically during Ramadan, especially during its first week, before a sudden resurgence during the post-fasting Lebaran period one month later.
While the situation has improved in recent years with several worthy mainstream Hollywood films released (perhaps due to the continually shifting Ramadan calendar that follows a lunar cycle), the same does not yet apply to local films.
During the past three Ramadans, we've seen forgettable low-brow horror and occasional comedy flicks released for screening in otherwise vacant cinemas. We pity those whose memories of Ramadan comprise watching Genderuwo The Movie, The Wall, Lawang Sewu Dendam Kuntilanak (lawang sewu: the revenge of the she-demons), Sarang Kuntilanak (the she-demon's lair), or the barely funny Tipu Kanan Tipu Kiri (cheating here and there).
Thus, I was a little anxious and curious on seeing a new Indonesian drama advertised during Ramadan this year: Kata Maaf Terakhir (the last apology).
The director seems to have paced the action to make every scene as melodramatic as possible, which is hardly a stretch, given the following premise.
Darma (played by Tio Pakusadewo) realizes his days are numbered because of a terminal illness. Before his time is up (there is no explanation as to where he obtains information about his illness) he aims to do some good deeds. The hardest comes last on his list: to be completely forgiven by his ex-wife Dania (singer Maia Estianty), his son Reza (Ade Surya Akbar) and daughter Lara (Rachel Amanda of TV-drama Candy fame, now known simply as Amanda).
Darma's ex-wife Dania has not forgiven Darma since he ran off with her best friend Alina (Kinaryosih) and started a new family with her. Dania has been left to feed her children, albeit raising them to deliver otherworldly lines in completely unconvincing performances.
It takes equally over-the-top dying acting from Tio Pakusadewo to bring the film to its predictable conclusion. If fasting is supposed to test our patience and endurance, this film does a damn good job at testing us too.
Looking suspiciously like a made-for-TV film that got boosted to the big screen, Kata Maaf Terakhir moves at snail's pace. What's more, actors Tio or Kinaryosih fail to develop and instead give mediocre performances. Under such conditions, we are continually forced to ask ourselves whether this is not just another sinetron (Indonesian soap opera) we are watching.
In another twist, Kata Maaf Terakhir is produced by SinemArt, a production company whose range of religious dramas ranges from a very-well-made production with a laudable storyline (Doa Yang Mengancam - a threatening prayer) to a box-office sensation with a critically acclaimed plot (Ketika Cinta Bertasbih - When Love Prays). However, none of these two films' qualities are apparent in their latest production.
However, what can be seen from senior editor Maruli Ara's big screen directorial debut here are traces of SinemArt's daily soap opera episodes that usually concentrate on indoor scenes, extreme close-ups, quick cuts and frames that are watched leisurely on small screens. Having directed many worthwhile TV dramas and shorts before, Maruli's cinematic debut is very much regretted.
Despite this, the film is not without an agenda of its own. Given the background of the storyline, set in Ramadan, a particular memory comes to mind. About a decade ago, the first Ramadan-themed sinetron, titled Doaku Harapanku (My Prayer, My Wish), played every day at fast-breaking times, competing with other channels mainly airing religious speeches. The drama won big-time, and set many following similar concepts until now. Perhaps the producers of Kata Maaf Terakhir may have wished to start a similar trend on the big screen. Yet, with its second-rate quality, the film hardly sparks any debate, instead it leads us to draw a sad conclusion to our initial question: We have yet to see a tested and proven local film to drive filmgoers to cinemas during the holy month.
Alas, we have to forgive a film for being a mere filler of vacant cinemas, again.
Kata Maaf Terakhir is playing in Indonesian without English subtitles at 21 Cineplex cinemas nationwide.