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'Bebas': A bittersweet, heartwarming and nostalgic memento mori

Reyzando Nawara
Reyzando Nawara

A film and TV series geek

Jakarta  /  Mon, September 23, 2019  /  01:04 pm
'Bebas': A bittersweet, heartwarming and nostalgic memento mori

Director Riri Riza (left) and actress Marsha Timothy (right) shoot the 'Bebas' movie on the MRT Jakarta on April 16. (Miles Films/File)

People say that high school is the best time of our life. During high school, you get to meet many people, some you will love, but others not so much. You will fall in and out of love, feeling the sheer joy of first love when you’re holding hands together while walking down the hall. And most important of all, high school is also a place where you can pour all of your ambitions and youthful vanity to help you reach your long list of dreams that you’re dying to achieve.

In a sense, high school will always be a simpler time filled with free time and fun, love and laughter, hopes and dreams. Whereas saying goodbye is not easy, you know that you will always have these memories to hold on to.

Riri Riza’s new feature Bebas is a bittersweet funny and nostalgic relationship-driven memento mori about the undying love of friendship, also the power memories have over a person.

Read also: Riri Riza, Mira Lesmana share experiences filming ‘Bebas’

While it may seem like Bebas is just another teen high school flick, the film’s breezy examination of the anxiety of mortality and the growing pains of getting older as well as its approach to one’s self-fulfillment journey proves to be very affecting throughout. Combine that with a universally strong performance from the ensemble along with Mira Lesmana and Gina S. Noer’s empathetic writing, then comes a feel-good dramedy that’s not only outrageous in and of itself, but also compelling at observing the fraught emotions in a group of friends after years of growing apart.

Bebas, on its surface, is a jovial story about a group of high school friends trying to rekindle their friendship from twenty-ish years ago. One of them is Vina, a middle-aged wealthy housewife whose daily life revolves around taking care of her busy husband, rebel high school daughter, a sick mother and endless housework. From the outside, Vina’s adult life may seem perfect and incredibly fine, but when we take a closer look at the minutiae of her banal life, we realize that she’s actually nothing more than just another supporting actor in someone else’s life, be it her husband or needy mother. She is aware of this, and then she meets Kris, the leader of a high school gang named “Bebas”, which she was a part of.

The two of them immediately hit it off, reminiscing about all the good memories and happy times in high school. Kris, who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and only has two months left to live, eventually asks Vina to reunite all the members of the gang for the last time. Vina says yes and promises Kris that she will grant her final wish, then begins her journey to reunite her friends.

What follows is a series of flashbacks, seamlessly tailored by Riri Riza’s well-observed direction that’s able to balance the saccharine nostalgic look at the characters’ adolescent lives, with the contrasting pessimistic view of how the ineffable anxiety of adulthood and growing pains can change a person. This is why, even when the film looks all dandy and candy from the outside, Bebas is actually a very compelling film that successfully provides a reflection on how as time goes by, human beings will eventually grow up and realize that not all of their dreams and ambitions can be reached, and how sometimes, well, most of the time, we will be asked to recalibrate our life as the hard truth of reality begins to wash up all of the youthful vanity that we once proudly held on to. This eventually also happens to Vina and her gang.

As we can see in the process of reuniting her pals, Vina eventually learns about how they have changed over time, and how time has not been really good to them. One of them is struggling to pay their debt by working as a failing insurance agent, while another one, who may seem luckier financially, is struggling to feel comfortable with the person he has become. Bebas evidently implies to us that not many people will possess the same ambitions and dreams that they had when they were still in high school.

Bebas is not suggesting that we shouldn’t dream and hope because we may not reach it in the end, but what the film is trying to say here is that we have to be ready to accept the fact that not all of our dreams will come true, and that sometimes we have to be prepared to readjust our expectations in adulthood.

I won’t lie, this is a rather pessimistic note for a film that talks about the undying love of friendship and kindness, but when we pay much closer attention, that’s exactly the reason why Bebas is so universally relatable. The movie talks about life as well as adulthood, and it doesn’t shy from the hard truth about it. And in doing so, the film reminds us that sometimes all we need to light up all the youthful fire that was once inside of us, is just a bunch of best friends who we know will never judge us no matter what, a “home” where we can always be who we truly are without being afraid of the cruel adulthood that we can’t escape from.

While this exploration of dreams and reality remains richly absorbing throughout, what really makes Bebas a lot more mesmerizing, however, is the way the film victoriously treats this theme of losing time without sacrificing the heart and emotions of the story just for the sake of authenticity and nostalgia. In fact, by incorporating humor into the story, the film is able to deliver the values in a less sappy manner, and rather, in a much more entertaining and palatable fashion.

In the end, Bebas teaches that time is a force that we can’t fight, and it won’t just stop anytime we’d like it to stop. We grow up and grow apart from our friends along the way, while time just keeps passing by. But just like what Vina and her friends have shown us, real friendship is the one that stays the same even after being tested by the passage of time. (dev/kes)

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.