One, that includes me, can’t help making this kind of classification unfairly given to Indonesian films in general, that is, the film either belongs to commercial market, or whether they are made (and marketed) as an art-y film, which usually associated with being screened on film festivals, locally and globally. Such treatment may not come from the opinionated-public itself, to some extent it is derived from the films themselves, which later on will prove to be some kind of major hindrance in analyzing and understanding the films, in complete.
Watching Banyu Biru is simply unable to escape the notion above.
Just like looking at its misleading poster that suggests a lightweight comedy with the use of plainly bright blue color and showing Tora Sudiro with a supposedly thoughtful, confused look around his face while holding a floating boat that turns to be merely bland innocent look, and the useless effort of maximizing general public interest by putting the name Dian Sastro right below Tora’s, the film seems to be ready to enter the market of commercial films intended to generate greater audience’s interest to flock on cinemas and making some philosophical film a hit.
Yet, the premise, metaphorically associated to the boat in the poster, only manages to float on the surface, drifting along seamlessly and leaving me wondering, what’s the film is all about?
The journey we are about to embark on watching this film refers to Banyu’s journey (Tora Sudiro) in finding his intended direction on life. Having separated from his estranged father (Slamet Rahardjo) ever since he was in high school after going through painful bringing up, now Banyu, being a lonesome depressed man of a big city pinched down to survive, determines to find out the missing link in his life that he thinks leads him to his current state of being. Along the way, he encounters different characters who help shaping his way of thinking, which eventually would lead to his relief. Or is it?
The story of how one finds the truth about his own life may be told for numerous times, yet Teddy Soeriaatmaja, the director, failed to bring out a fresh look of this overused theme. It started strongly though, with the sequence of a couple dancing along the song ‘Juwita Malam’, which later would be played throughout the film in many different versions, and a young boy peeks at the couple who turns out to be his parents as the story progresses. The sweet scene done in soft-tone color evokes our sense of nostalgia, and as if Teddy would not want to let the sweetness go away, he seems to be trapped in gorgeous cinematography rather than concentrating on the pillar of a narrative fiction film: good storytelling. Quite a number of beautiful shots taken from unusual angles of point of view are drained to replace the exhaustiveness from the lack of coherent storytelling.
A good defense of these imagery showcases would be to make the film as surrealist as it can be. Some scenes heavily suggest this intention, the strongest would be the dancing scene in the middle of a boring meeting at Banyu’s workplace. Like a rip-off from Bjork’s music video “It’s Oh So Quiet” when all the actors suddenly breakout into dancing moves with no particular expression on their faces, the scene marks as the most relieving part of the film. Yet, this continuity of dream-like quality in the film has to be butchered when the rest of the following scenes force themselves to be filled with un-communicative words, jump directly at intended meaning instead of regular talks that may bring out the purpose of having those talks better. By then, audience’s freedom to interpret and perceive the film is annoyingly disturbed with these meaningless words.
Which also would leave the actors at their dreadfulness, trying hard to interpret the story in unconvincing ways. By any means, Teddy is the most enviable director at the moment for his ability in assembling talented cast comprises of Slamet Rahardjo, Dian Sastro, Didi Petet, HIM Damsyik, Didi Petet, Rima Melati, but surely he would be the unfortunate one who is unable to capitalize their talents. In fact, the surprise of this film is derived from one scene-stealer whose skillful acting presence lingers on my mind long after the film ends: Oscar Lawalata.
You may accuse him of merely playing as himself for the character, coincidental or not, resembles to Oscar’s own character, I believe. However, as the film clearly states at the end-credit that the whole film is fictional and no matter what the background of the actor is, Oscar does the best of all the rest of the actors here. Playing as Arif, a neglected childhood friend of Banyu, Oscar is often put under the silhouette, hiding most of his recognizable signatural feature. Yet, as good as any caliber actors can be in marking his presence without even showing, Oscar does the same through his carefully enunciated words that he delivers with superb, contented delivery, leaving Tora scratching his head for he needs to learn from this scene-stealer.
But as Oscar only does scene-stealing, moreover only one scene which surely is not enough to help the film from going downhill afterwards, what might be able to redeem is the breathtaking beauty of the film’s setting and melodious score that will surely be granted at least a nomination for this year’s Indonesian Film Festival. Too early to predict, but at least the film is saved by these two elements that surely captivated one of the reporters sitting next to me in watching the film who, after the end-credit finishes, immediately blurted out the words to the film’s publicist:
“Pemandangan alamnya bagus ya, mbak!”
I can imagine Teddy smirking.
Final Verdict: Banyu Biru works like a floating surrealism that only drifts around the surface without attempting to go deeper into the core of the story. It escapes the pretentiousness, thanks to commercially-bankable actors who play the roles of the characters here.