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The year of films from romantic comedy to streaming

Stanley Widianto

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, December 20, 2018  /  10:27 am
The year of films from romantic comedy to streaming

Bone breaking: The Indonesian film industry is becoming known for ultra-violent fight scenes and choreography, as seen in The Night Comes For Us, which was released through Netflix. (Photos courtesy of

Cheesy teen romances and comedies were the highlights of this year’s Indonesian film scene given the success of Dilan, 1990 during the first month of 2018.

Dilan — a sleeper hit that combined sunny teenage love with an absence of nuance — was only a precursor to a genre best described as “uncomplicated romantic high school”.

From #TemanTapiMenikah (FriendsButMarried) and Somewhere in Betweento R: Raja, Ratu & Rahasia (R: Raja, Ratu & Secrets), it is sufficient to say Dilan blazed the trail for these films.

But as for the trajectory of Indonesian films, it is still hard to gauge the trends or the peaks that filmmakers will reach.

So, Dilan was just a cheesy welcome mat for the blurry image of 2018 Indonesian films. This is just how things work sometimes, and they do work.

“The quality of this year’s films didn’t really improve from last year,” director Joko Anwar told The Jakarta Post, while noting that last year saw a slew of great Indonesian films; from Mouly Surya’s Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts to Kamila Andini’s The Seen and Unseen.

Even so, according to Joko, ticket sales rose from last year.

According to the film site Film Indonesia, the top five best-selling films of 2018 were Dilan, Suzanna, Bernafas Dalam Kubur (Suzanna, Breathes from the Grave), Danur 2: Maddah, Si Doel the Movie and Asih.

Nostalgia and commercial success

Some films garnered commercial success by riding on the nostalgia and longing of the currently adult Generation-X segment for the shows broadcast regularly on television during their teenage days in the 1990s.

By tapping into nostalgia, films like Wiro Sableng 212 followed the series of novels of the same name by Bastian Tito and its TV adaptation.

The young adult version of Wiro Sableng played by Vino G. Bastian. The young adult version of Wiro Sableng played by Vino G. Bastian. (

The television show from the 1990s, Si Doel Anak Sekolahan (Doel the School Boy), also got a movie treatment through Si Doel the Movie with the primary cast — Rano Karno, Maudy Koesnaedi, Cornelia Agatha, Mandra — reprising their roles.

The original television show in turn was a follow-up to 1972’s Si Doel Anak Betawi (Doel the Betawi Boy) movie and its sequel Si Doel Anak Modern(Doel the Modern Boy).

Festivals for everyone

Other than regular cinemas and streaming services, 2018 also provided a lot of film festivals to attend for Indonesians who wanted something more than the mainstream had to offer.

The most notable festival — along with 100% Manusia, Europe on Screen or Madani Film Festival — was held as the year was coming to an end, the Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival in Yogyakarta.

Three films, which were not released in large cinema chains but which garnered significant acclaim among local and international audiences, were screened at the festival, Ravi L. Bharwani’s 27 Steps of May, Robby Ertanto’s Ave Maryam and Garin Nugroho’s Memories of My Body.

The award winners

Among the best films, but less commercially successful, this year were arguably Timo Tjahjanto’s horror Sebelum Iblis Menjemput (May the Devil Take You), a relentlessly terrifying film starring Pevita Pearce and Chelsea Islan, and Edwin’s Aruna & Lidahnya (Aruna & Her Tongue).

Dian Sastrowardoyo as Aruna in Aruna & Lidahnya (Aruna & Her Palate).Dian Sastrowardoyo as Aruna in Aruna & Lidahnya (Aruna & Her Palate). (

Aruna is an interesting take on a romantic comedy starring Dian Sastrowardoyo, Hannah Al Rashid, Nicholas Saputra and Oka Antara. Aruna did not necessarily flip the script on the formula, but the film’s language was fresh.

Aruna also earned nominations at the Piala Citra Festival Film Indonesia awards, including for best film and best director. It shared the stage with fellow nominees like Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts and The Seen and Unseen with the former winning the most awards, including best film, best director, best actress in a leading role, best actress in a supporting role and best music arranger.

“I was so moved to see [Marlina cast and crew] Dea [Panendra], Yunus [Pasolang], Frans [Xr Paat] get each of their trophies,” said Mouly, who won a slew of Piala Citra trophies for her film fiksi (fiction).

“Before the Piala Citra, Marlina opened a lot of doors for my career. So even if I hadn’t won, I would still feel as secure with what I’ve got from Marlina. That I got it was a bonus. As I said in my speech, for my late dad, it was the best award to have.”

One of the biggest surprises of the Piala Citra was the award to Gading Marten for his role in the terrific film Love for Sale by director Andibachtiar Yusuf.

Love for Sale, along with the sci-fi film Tengkorak, were two of the most slept-on theatrical films of this year.

Rise of streaming services

Love for Sale in particular is a welcome reminder that reach is an option for Indonesian films given the rise of emerging streaming platforms such as Netflix, following Viu or iflix before it.

Indonesian audiences might remember Netflix from its hilarious Twitter account, which boasts about getting accredited by Indonesian language expert Ivan Lanin or from its original film; Timo’s bloody, enthralling The Night Comes for Us, which was released in October.

While it lasts: Gading Marten (top) and Della Dartyan give a moving performance in Love For Sale, a bitter romantic comedy about a middle-aged man who tries to find true love.While it lasts: Gading Marten (top) and Della Dartyan give a moving performance in Love For Sale, a bitter romantic comedy about a middle-aged man who tries to find true love. (-/-)

The question among industry players right now is how much can streaming platforms extend the reach of films to their targeted audience and for this, Eric Sasono, a film critic, believes that the impact of services like Netflix will not be significant in the near future.

“First of all, the infrastructure is not sufficient yet. Internet connections are still relatively expensive for high-quality film,” Eric said.

Eric added that since films are considered social events — for dates or just home viewing, streaming platforms need to ensure the audio visual quality, to be similar to a home theater system. When that is a norm, streaming platforms can be “a serious alternative”.

So, what is next in 2019?

One of the most notable releases next year will be Kimo Stamboel’s adaptation of the Indonesian video game DreadOut with Jefri Nichol and Caitlin Halderman in leading roles.

Similar to Si Doel, the popular 1990s television family drama Keluarga Cemara will get a theatrical adaptation, to be released in January, with Yandy Laurens appointed as its director.

Lastly, the movie Foxtrot Six — a million-dollar budgeted action movie produced by Mario Kassar of the Terminator franchise starring Oka Antara, Mike Lewis and Julie Estelle — will also get a theatrical release.

Both Timo and Joko are at work on adaptations of two comic books: Si Buta Dari Gua Hantu and Gundala Putra Petir.

Joko is optimistic about what’s next.

“In 2019, there will probably be groundbreaking films. They could raise the benchmark for Indonesian films in terms of technique and aesthetics,” he said.

There are options for everybody. Some production houses still embrace private investment that provides an unsupervised, undisciplined environment.

“From the perspective of filmmakers, we still need more human resources going forward,” Mouly told the Post.

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