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Wiji Thukul biopic reveals human side of missing poet

Ni Nyoman Wira
Ni Nyoman Wira

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Tue, January 10, 2017  /  03:43 pm
Wiji Thukul biopic reveals human side of missing poet

Indonesian poet Wiji Thukul (Gunawan Maryanto) shown in a scene of "Istirahatlah Kata-Kata". (Youtube/File)

Istirahatlah Kata-Kata (Solo, Solitude), a biographical movie about Indonesian poet Wiji Thukul, whose whereabouts remain unknown until today, will be screened in eight cities across the country starting on Jan. 19.

Written and directed by Yosep Anggi Noen, the movie is set in 1996 during Wiji’s days as a fugitive. The movie opens in Solo, Central Java, where Wiji’s wife Sipon and their daughter, Fitri, are being questioned about Wiji's whereabouts by a man in a leather jacket. The scene then moves to Pontianak, West Kalimantan, where Wiji moves from one house to another to evade the army.

He eventually ends up at his friend Thomas’s house, where he also meets Martin and his wife Ida. As a fugitive in a new environment, it takes some time for Wiji to go out alone or hang out with his friends outside the house, but that does not stop him from writing poems. One day, accompanied by Martin, Wiji wants to get a haircut, when he meets a military member who jumps the queue and demands the barber give him a haircut for free. Due to the circumstances, Wiji stays quiet, although he feels quite irritated and threatened at the same time. After staying in Pontianak for a few days, Wiji wants to return home, although the intels (intelligence officials) are watching his house and his family.

Istirahatlah Kata-Kata chooses an unusual approach to narrate Wiji Thukul’s life. Some people may expect to watch an action-packed movie, with the army chasing down the poet no matter how hard he tries to escape. This movie, however, opts to present the human side of the poet. A friend of Wiji Thukul’s, human rights activist Mugiyanto Sipin, noted during a press conference that the movie was made by people who did not know the poet personally, as they came from the post-98 generation.

(Read also: Wiji Thukul: From Solo to Locarno)

Agreeing with Mugiyanto, another friend of Wiji's, Nezar Patria, said the movie presented a perspective on the poet that differed from other stories people may have heard or read. “For instance, there’s no explicit illustration of Wiji facing the army or being beaten [by them],” he said. “What we see is how Wiji tried to avoid the army in one place in Pontianak and how his existential and elementary situation as a human – his fears and longing – are well represented.”

For Yosep Anggi Noen, every slice of life has its own appealing side, although it is rarely shown in Indonesian movies. “The movie is my attempt to see Wiji Thukul’s spirit, who is able to note down his daily life into powerful words,” he said, adding that he also included Wiji Thukul’s poems in the movie. “I’m sure that violence can also be seen in a poetical way.”

Meanwhile, Wiji Thukul’s younger brother Wahyu Susilo said, “Through this movie I want to encourage people to refuse to forget those incidents [the disappearance of Wiji Thukul and another 13 activists], because we can imagine that we wouldn’t be free to hold such a conference or make such a movie if not for our [missing] friends. And I think democracy is their biggest legacy for us.”

Istirahatlah Kata-Kata premiered at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland in early August. Starring Gunawan Maryanto, Marissa Anita, Melanie Subono, Eduwart Boang Manalu, Dhafi Yunan and Joned Suryatmoko, it participated in many international film festivals and local film competitions, including the 2016 Best Film by Tempo magazine. (kes)