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‘Abracadabra’: Faozan Rizal and the magic of cinema

Katrin Figge

The Jakarta Post

Berlin, Germany  /  Fri, January 10, 2020  /  02:24 pm
‘Abracadabra’: Faozan Rizal and the magic of cinema

Homage to Dali: A scene from "Abracadabra" is based on Salvador Dali's early work "Young Woman at a Window". (Courtesy of Fourcolours Films/-)

Director Faozan Rizal first came up with the idea for a film about magic more than four years ago. Back then, however, Abracadabra was still a very dark story and looked nothing like the fun-filled movie for both children and adults that will hit the big screen this week.

“I was always fascinated by magic, in the same way I was fascinated by cinema – they both present us with an opportunity to live within our own imagination,” he said.

Abracadabra, which hits theaters in Indonesia on Thursday, follows the story of Lukman, a magician portrayed by Reza Rahadian, who doesn’t believe in miracles anymore.

During his farewell performance, he asks a young boy from the audience to step into a wooden box to make him disappear. The magic trick goes awry when the boy vanishes. In order to escape from the police and the charge of child abduction, Lukman flees with the box, and a game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

“Initially, the box was supposed to be from a World War II concentration camp in Germany, used by a magician to help children disappear and, therefore, save them from certain death,” Faozan recalled the earliest draft of the Abracadabra script.

But Indonesian producers weren’t interested in bringing such a dark and depressing tale to the big screen; even international producers and investors were skeptical, saying the holocaust as subject matter in an Indonesian film was a mismatch.

The filmmaker: Faozan Rizal started his career in the film industry as cinematographer and The filmmaker: Faozan Rizal started his career in the film industry as cinematographer and "Abracadabra" is his fourth effort as a director. (Courtesy of Faozan Rizal/-)

In the end, Faozan threw his whole concept overboard and approached the script from a different angle, only keeping the initial idea of a magician who uses an old box in which people disappear.

“I turned the film from depicting dark magic into fun magic and made a movie that is also enjoyable for children,” he explained.

“I took my clue from the way children think and tell stories. They like to jump from one storyline to the next, sometimes leaving loopholes, and I thought it might be fun if the film’s sequences were structured in a similar way. I wanted to celebrate life and make viewers fall in love with colors and shapes.”

The dismantling and reconstructing of the story was a process that took more than four years, Faozan said. The new script, now a comedy-fantasy instead of a drama, caught the attention of Ifa Isfanyah, who owns Yogyakarta-based production company Fourcolors Films.

Abracadabra was produced by Fourcolors Films in collaboration with Hooq, Ideosource, Aurora Media and supported by Focused Equipment and WOA Entertainment.

“I’m happy that I was able to get Ifa on board in the end because he’s one of the few in Indonesian producers who always supports the director’s vision and hardly intervenes,” Faozan said.

“Others tend to look at a film project from the investor’s perspective and the business angle, but because Ifa is a director himself, he understands that it is the director who bears the responsibility for the film.”

Faozan first started his career in the film industry as a cinematographer before moving to the director’s chair. Abracadabra marks the second collaboration between Faozan and Reza after the 2012 drama Habibie & Ainun, which was Faozan’s debut as a director.

“After Habibie & Ainun, I followed Reza’s career, and it seemed like it was very smooth sailing,” Faozan said with a laugh. “I wanted to challenge him to do something different, and I think Abracadabra was a little difficult for him at first because I approached this film like a play. There are no reverse shots, so he had to adjust to this new technique.”

Other actors involved in Abracadabra, such as Butet Kartaredjasa and Landung Simatupang, had less trouble because they are veteran stage actors and Faozan’s shooting technique came naturally to them. 

Abracadabra also conveys Faozan’s passion for fine art in its production design.

“There are several scenes in the films that I wanted to look like paintings,” Faozan explained. “In the scene where Reza wakes up at the beach, for instance, I drew inspiration from a painting by Caspar David Friedrich titled Wanderer above the Sea of Fog.

Art inspiration: A scene inspired by Caspar David Friedrich's painting Art inspiration: A scene inspired by Caspar David Friedrich's painting "Wanderer above the Sea of Fog". (Courtesy of Fourcolours Films/-)

“Another one is when a young woman suddenly appears from the wooden box and looks outside. Here, the production design was based on Young Woman at the Window by Salvador Dali.”

Dali created this artwork in his youth, Faozan added, and it didn’t include the typical surreal elements of his later works yet.

“I thought it would be fun if we added them ourselves in the movie scene and decorated the window frame with keys, doorknobs and other peculiarities,” he recalled. “I worked very closely with our production designer Vida Sylvia on these scenes.”

Although at first glance, Abracadabra is all about entertainment, fun and stunning visuals, Faozan made sure to sprinkle social commentary across the film, from feminism to environmentalism.

“It is up to the viewers to dig a little deeper to discover it,” he said with a mischievous smile.

In Abracadabra’s dream sequences, Faozan also pays tribute to Georges Melies, a French illusionist and film director in the earliest days of cinema who became well known for his use of special effects and championed new techniques.

The film’s impressive visual impact comes courtesy of cinematographer Gandang Warah. Faozan, who is a member of the Indonesian Society of Cinematographers, is eager to shine a spotlight on new talents in his field.

“I try to support young and upcoming Indonesian cinematographers or those who have been struggling in the past to find work on set,” he said. “I don’t mind the competition because I’d rather see more and more cinematographers find success.”

He also makes it a point to assemble film crews with a female majority.

“For Abracadabra, 75 percent of the crew is female,” he explained. “The movie industry in Indonesia is still dominated by men, and we haven’t reached full equality for women yet. I’m just doing my part to help.”

Faozan, who is based in Berlin, Germany, and regularly travels to Indonesia for projects he is working on and to visit family and friends, said that it hasn’t been easy to build a new network in Germany as the overwhelming majority of his professional connections remain in his home country. However, he appreciates the fact that he has been able to make the most out of living in two worlds.

“When it comes to doing research for my work, I thoroughly enjoy being in Germany,” he says. “There are fewer distractions and I can fully focus on my current project, and the possibilities for research, like public libraries, book stores or museums, are far more extensive than in Indonesia.”

Abracadabra was also Faozan’s first foray into the comedy-fantasy genre. For his next project, he’d like to continue in this direction.

“Real life is already very serious,” he said. “Making comedies is a good way to poke fun at authorities or a country’s government and system. It helps to make people laugh and also to laugh at ourselves a little.” (ste)


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