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The Jakarta Post
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Questioning intolerance

  • Indah Setiawati

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Sun, April 10 2011 | 08:00 am
Questioning intolerance

Senior actor Hengky Sulaeman (right) plays Tan Kat Sun, a restaurant owner in the film by Hanung Bramantyo. courtesy of Dapur Film/Mahaka Pictures

Living harmoniously in a diverse neighborhood seems to be difficult, but many people in the country are interconnected in such a way that their differences remain trivial.

Director Hanung Bramantyo, who has created a number of Islam-oriented films including Ayat-ayat Cinta (Verses of Love) and Sang Pencerah (The Enlightener), has returned with a different point of view in his 14th movie.

The movie was released on April 7 simply with a question mark (?) as its title. The production house, Dapur Film and Mahaka Pictures, has invited the public to submit a title for the film to win a prize.

Hanung created the film after he became disturbed by the growing radicalism and intolerance in the country. He challenges intolerance by underlining the voices of moderate people who tolerate the differences that exist in society.

Set in Semarang, Central Java, the film tells the stories of three families who have completely different backgrounds.

The family of Tan Kat Sun (Hengky Sulaeman) runs a restaurant serving halal and non-halal food. Soleh (Reza Rahadian) is a jobless husband whose sole purpose in life is to be useful to his family and religion.

His beautiful Muslim wife, Menuk (Revalina S. Temat), works as a waitress in Tan Kat Sun’s restaurant. She befriends Rika (Endhita), a widow with a little boy, who is close to Surya (Agus Kuncoro), a pathetic actor who for years has only been able to land very small parts.

Despite his illness and age, Tan Kat Sun runs the restaurant with perseverance. He puts red marks on the cooking tools used to cook pork to differentiate them from the utensils for halal foods.

He also is very tolerant of his Muslim employees, allowing them to pray and enough time to celebrate Idul Fitri.

Tan Kat Sun often has arguments with his son, Hendra (Rio Dewanto), who has a strong rebellious side. Hendra wants to build his own Chinese restaurant that sells pork only, but he does not dare convey this idea to his father, who strongly encourages him to continue the family’s business legacy.

Also, Hendra still cannot accept that his former girlfriend, Menuk, has decided to marry Soleh, an unemployed person who is Muslim as she is.

Menuk loves Soleh wholeheartedly and accepts that he has no job, but her world turns upside down when her distressed husband announces he wants to divorce her. The situation improves when Soleh enrolls as a member of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s biggest Islamic organization. He gets his confidence back as a husband and feels honored to serve his religion.

Meanwhile, Rika has to face harsh criticism from her family and neighbors for converting to Catholicism. However, she is able to lift the spirits of her troubled out-of-work-actor friend Surya, by offering him the chance to play in a Christmas performance in her church.

Surya must wrestle with the chance to land an important role — but there is a catch.

The tension heightens when Tan Kat Sun’s illness deteriorates and Hendra unwillingly takes over his father’s restaurant. He changes the fundamental principal of running the restaurant, triggering unease among the employees and the neighborhood.

Hendra and Soleh are also involved in a quarrel over their past rivalry. At the same time, Surya must wrestle with whether to accept the role in the play, or not. His dream of playing the lead in a play is within his grasp, but the main role is Jesus Christ and the stage is inside of a Catholic church.

Meanwhile, Abi, Rika’s Muslim son, cannot bear the neighbors’ prejudice and sarcastic comments. He tries to express his angst to his mother.

The diversity in the neighborhood is courageously depicted from the very first scene. A familiar church song greets the audience, but is quickly followed by the reverberating sound of the adzan (Islamic call to prayer).

Tensions mounts early when a group of Muslim youths yell at Hendra, “Chinese, slanty eyes!” Hendra replies with “Terrorist, dog!”

The film is beautifully shot, a signature of Hanung’s touch. The authenticity of the Chinese restaurant’s kitchen, with its row of cooking utensils, sauce bottles, glass jars, hanging poultry, and a pig’s head, is a testimony to Hanung’s attention to detail.

The non-censored version of the movie has three scenes in which a pig’s head is shown. Hanung said the Film Censorship Board (LSF) had cut some of the shots.

“The scene about different cooking tools is enough,” he said.

He said he hoped the LSF would allow at least one of the pig head shots because the conflict in the storyline would be meaningless without the reference.

Depicting pigs or pork is a delicate issue in Indonesia – a predominantly Muslim country.

Pork is haram or forbidden under Islamic Law. On the other hand, many non-Muslims consider it one of the most delicious meats.

Agus Kuncoro (Kun Fayakuun/Be and Let It Be) steals the show with his portrayal of Surya. He delivers most of the laughs and touching scenes, invoking laughter and tears. Reza Rahadian (Alangkah Lucunya Negeri Ini (How Funny This Country Is), 3 Hati, Dua Dunia, Satu Cinta (Three Hearts, Two Worlds, One Love) also gives a gripping portrayal of an annoyingly pathetic husband.

David Chalik, who plays the good looking, young, wise and moderate ustadz, brings the film a breath of fresh air, and tears down the stereotypical image of the old conservative ustadzs who are often portrayed in religious films.

Hanung said LSF suggested that he mentioned that the film was inspired by true events in the credits because some characters in the film were real, although their relationships depicted in the film were not.

A more factual account of the characters’ lives will be revealed in a novel scheduled to be released in July.

Verdict: The film is a gallant attempt to promoted moderate Islam and reveal the sensitive issues in the country in a casual way. Get ready to burst into laughter and break down in tears.


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