The Jakarta Post
The movie Aruna dan Lidahnya (Aruna and Her Palate), based on the namesake book by Laksmi Pamuntjak (English title: The Birdwoman’s Palate), deals with the friendship of four people. This is the second film of Palari Films, whose debut last year, Posesif (Possessive), went on to clinch awards at the 2017 Indonesian Film Festival (2017). Aruna dan Lidahnya is directed by Edwin, while Titien Wattimena wrote the screenplay.
Food lover Aruna (Dian Sastrowardoyo) is assigned to investigate bird flu cases in several places of Indonesia. Her friends, chef Bono (Nicholas Saputra) and food writer Nad (Hannah Al Rashid), join her on a mission of their own: culinary delights.
In the first city, Surabaya, they run into Farish (Oka Antara), Aruna’s former colleague and crush, who says he is also working on the bird flu cases. Thus, work then takes them to Madura’s Pamekasan as well as Kalimantan’s Pontianak and Singkawang. Along the way, Aruna senses something suspicious in the investigation and is forced to face her doubts along with her unresolved feelings toward Farish.
The movie takes its time to introduce each character’s personality: the simple Aruna, the adventurous Nad, the easygoing Bono and the apprehensive Farish. Their traits are slowly revealed through a lot of conversations and small talk over food. Aside with food, love, friendship, religion and politics are on the menu.
As with the book, food is central in the movie, with a total of 21 dishes, beverages and snacks featured. During a press screening in Jakarta on Thursday, Edwin said the dishes in the movie were not as many as in the book. However, the choices seem to work out, and it’s interesting to note that the dishes featured are not those that are already well-known.
Take lorjuk for example, the odd-looking razor clams as a crucial addition to soto (aromatic soup) dish in Pamekasan. There is also the Pontianak pengkang, a steamed dish made of glutinous rice with dried shrimp.
The food shots are presented in a pure way. It is slightly pornographic in a way that it will arouse your appetite, but nothing felt very deliberate or conscious. It all comes down to the food’s natural charm and how the camera lets them ooze through. This was palpable during the screening: Whenever food appeared on the screen, I could hear gulps all around and felt the viewers’ yearning in silence.
Restrained feelings are also something familiar to Aruna, who is used to being reserved and process her feelings within her own mind. That could explain the many times she purposefully looks to the audience with various expressions; a sort of invite to see her true feelings, unexposed even to her close friends.
While the free-spirited Nad is understandably lovable and intriguing, it could be a bit challenging to see why Aruna ever had a crush on Farish, who is uptight and whose feelings are probably even more restrained than Aruna’s. The movie did little to answer this question, except for a scene when Farish spontaneously goes to help a sick man. Aruna then says to the audience, “Things like these make him stay on my list.” And as the movie evolves, despite awkward conversations and misunderstood feelings, Aruna and Farish’s chemistry makes it believable.
Sometimes it’s easy to brush off small things as meaningless or trivial. They may be daily routine, things you are ever so used to facing and doing, but they nonetheless make up our lives. Aruna dan Lidahnya does just that in all the right proportions. It shows the very dynamic of a friendship, the ups and downs of life, recognizing your own emotions and how the warmest feelings can come from acknowledging all of that. The movie is a solid affirmation to savor the little things in life.
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