While some Indonesians might be familiar with Usmar Ismail and his classic works, others might know little about the father of Indonesian cinema.
He is recognized for his efforts in developing the local film industry, including founding the Indonesian Film Producers Association (PPFI).
Among his credits are Darah dan Doa (Blood and Prayers, 1950), Enam Djam di Djogja (Six Hours in Yogyakarta, 1950), Dosa Tak Berampun (The Unforgivable Sins, 1951), Terimalah Laguku (Please, Accept My Song, 1952), Krisis (Crisis, 1953) and Lewat Djam Malam (After the Curfew, 1954).
Sadly, since its production, the original print of Lewat Djam Malam was heavily damaged. But with funding support from the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) and the World Cinema Foundation (WCF), established by noted filmmaker Martin Scorsese, Sinematek Indonesia (The Archive of Indonesian Motion Pictures), Konfiden Foundation and Kineforum Dewan Kesenian Jakarta (Cinema Forum of Jakarta Art Board) worked together to rescue and restore this classic film.
The consortium of cinema organizations shipped the film from its home at Sinematek Indonesia at the Usmar Ismail film building on Jl. Rasuna Said, South Jakarta, to a restoration workshop in Bologna, Italy, for several months of work by film experts at L’Immagine Ritrovata.
“By restoring the films, we are actually restoring national film history,” prominent film critic JB Kristanto said.
The film has had the honor to be screened in May at the Cannes International Film Festival’s Classic Film Program — a 2004 initiative launched to focus on the restoration of classic movies from around the world.
Almost 60 years since its original release, the film has made a triumphant return to local cineplexes, giving the public the opportunity to watch the legendary black-and-white work of the famous Usmar Ismail.
Set in Bandung, West Java, in the years after independence, Lewat Djam Malam revolves around a former Indonesian soldier named Iskandar (played by actor and filmmaker AN Alcaff) as he attempts to reintegrate into society after spending years at war against the Dutch.
During the period, the Indonesian government imposed a curfew, requiring civilians to stay behind closed doors from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., for security and safety reasons.
Reuniting with his fiancée Norma (Netty Herawati), Iskandar struggles to carry the emotional burdens of war, and is haunted by his experiences during the revolutionary era.
And despite coming home, the psychological effects of his experiences threaten to open a divide between Iskandar and his fiancée and friends.
Dealing with his guilt and depression, Iskandar wanders the city, looking for a suitable job before finally encountering his former partners in the army: Gafar (Awaludin), who now is a contractor and has high hopes for developing the city and making it a better place; his former commander Gunawan (RD Ismail), a ruthless revolutionary turned tycoon; and Puja (Bambang Hermanto), who pursues the hedonistic lifestyle of a pimp at a brothel where the attractive Laila (Dhalia) lives.
Laila, a call girl longing for unconditional love, comes to Iskandar and asks him to settle down making a family.
Lewat Djam Malam is a social critique on the highs and lows in the life of a veteran, who struggles to cope with the emotional effects of war and to reconcile the society he left behind differs with the ideals he fought to defend.
Usmar managed to examine nationalism by wrapping moviegoers in the layered complexity of the leading character.
The film bagged awards at the 1955 Indonesian Film Festival for best picture, best leading actor (AN Alcaff), best leading actress (Dhalia) and best script writer (Asrul Sani).
According to film historian Misbach Yusa Biran, Usmar Ismail prepared the film for the first Asian Film Festival in Tokyo, Japan, but when the film was completed, the government denied the film and the crew permission to travel abroad.
Lewat Djam Malam is only one of around 2,000 films deteriorating due to the lack of adequate storage facilities and poor maintenance at Sinematek Indonesia. The only way to get the films back into good condition, and to preserve them for years to come, is through restoration.
Sinematek Indonesia houses 2,714 film titles, comprising 632 master copies, 318 screening copies and 1,615 documentary film copies in 35 millimeters and 16 millimeters formats.
At Sinematek Indonesia, visitors can find Indonesian movies produced from the 1940s to 2010 by various filmmakers, including Sumandjaya, Teguh Karya and Garin Nugroho.
Verdict: Lewat Djam Malam is a must-see work of art and a unique chance to witness one of Usmar Ismail’s restored masterpieces.
Lewat Djam Malam
(115 minutes, Sinematek Indonesia)
Starring: AN Alcaff, Netty Herawati, Dhalia, Bambang Hermanto, Rd Ismail, Awaludin, Titien Sumarni, Aedy Moward, Astaman, A Hadi, Wahid Chan, S Taharnunu, Lukman Jusuf
Director: Usmar Ismail
Writer: Asrul Sani
Producer: Usmar Ismail, Djamaluddin Malik