The life of the Bajo people who live in the Wakatobi Islands is unveiled in The Mirror Never Lies, a debut feature film from young director Kamila Andini.
An expanse of deep blue sea. White sands. Crystal clear water. Pristine coral reefs. Stunning underwater scenery. These are the images that define the richness and the beauty of the Wakatobi Islands in Southeast Sulawesi, which have become a new paradise for sea lovers and divers.
However, these images do not do justice to the hidden treasures and culture of the inhabitants of these mesmerizing islands.
Not many people know that the beautiful islands are home to the Bajo tribe, the sea wandering nomads who rely entirely on marine resources for survival.
The marine biodiversity around Wakatobi islands and the life of the Bajo people are portrayed in The Mirror Never Lies, a collaborative work of WWF-Indonesia, the Wakatobi administration and SET Film Workshop.
The film is directed by newcomer Kamila Andini, who started her directing career working on documentary films about environmental conservation and as assistant director for music videos of bands Slank and Ungu and songstress Tere.
This is a debut feature film for the 25-year-old, who is also the daughter of prominent producer/director/script writer Garin Nugroho.
The family drama centers on the life of a 12-year-old Bajonese girl named Pakis (played by newcomer Gita Novalista), who lives with her mother Tayung (Atiqah Hasiholan), after her father was lost at sea.
Pakis, however, believes her father is still alive and will come home someday. She performs a Bajo ritual in which she uses a mirror to see her father’s reflection. She carries a mirror, a gift from her father, everywhere as she never loses hope of finding her father.
The best times she had with her father shadow Pakis. For Pakis, her father is her ultimate hero, the one who always protected her, told her bedtime stories, taught her things and gave her wise words. While Pakis keeps on waiting for his lost father, Tayung realizes that her husband will never come back.
Tayung, who covers her face with powder, even forces Pakis to stop daydreaming about her father — and forbids her from carrying the mirror. This difference of opinions and beliefs sparks arguments between them. When their problems grow bigger, Tudo (Reza Rahadian), a dolphin researcher from Jakarta, comes into their life and brings new light to the sad little family.
The movie essentially focuses on the conflicts between the mother and the daughter, who choose their own ways of chasing away the pain in their hearts.
Accompanied by her humorous best friend Lumo (portrayed by Eko), Pakis strives to find her father’s existence by continually visiting a spiritual counselor.
Tayung herself is drawn into her daily work, catching and selling sea cucumbers, to support the family. She is a picture of a tough woman who is strong on the outside, but fragile and in the need of love on the inside.
The three young actors — Gita Novalista, Eko and Zainal, who are Bajonese, shine in their debut film. They might have never learned about acting, but they act naturally. Each has his/her best moments which really draw the audience’s attention.
Gita portrays a gloomy girl who misses a father figure and begins to think that nobody is good but her father. Lumo is a good match for Pakis as he is a happy-go-lucky type of boy who is always there whenever Pakis needs him, the one who cheers her up when she is down.
Meanwhile, the Kutta character (played well by Zainal) entertains moviegoers with his singing. The combination of Lumo and Kutta can induce laughter and somehow helps chase away the boredom that comes up during the flick due to the slow pace of the story.
Aside from the memorable performances of the three young Bajonese, there are some crucial points of this film that are left unanswered. Those things involve the Tayung and Tudo characters, who raise a big question in our mind when the film ends.
For the Tudo character, for instance, there is no detailed explanation of who exactly Tudo is and why he brings along a white wedding gown with him. The audience will also have to guess why Tayung covers her face with powder.
The bright side is that this movie allows you to enjoy Wakatobi’s magnificent underwater panorama, which will definitely leave you all in awe, and get to know more about the culture of the Bajo people.
The Bajo tribe can also be found in some parts of the world especially around the Coral Triangle, a triangular area in the tropical waters that encompasses six countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Island and Timor Leste.
Today, the existence of the Bajo people in Wakatobi is threatened as the coral triangle is being damaged by destructive fishing and climate change.
This movie is an effort to raise people’s awareness about the problem and to take part in protecting biodiversities in the Wakatobi area.
The Mirror Never Lies itself won an “Honorable Mention” at the Global Film Initiative on April 14, 2011, based on some categories like art aspect, story telling and its cultural perspective. The film is slated to be screened for the public on May 5.
Verdict: A sneak peak into the beauty of Wakatobi, which reminds us to preserve marine life from environmental degradation.
The Mirror Never Lies (100 minutes, SET Film Workshop)
Starring Atiqah Hasiholan, Reza Rahadian, Gita Novalista, Eko, Zainal
Director: Kamila Andini
Writer: Dirmawan Hatta
Producers: Garin Nugroho, Delvy Wildasari Suradji