With a string of successive records of introductory lessons, Nia DiNata starts to establish her own place among the commonality of other directors in the industry.
First, she initiates. In Ca-Bau Kan, she brought the unseen historical tale of Chinese heritage to the public for the first time. In Arisan!, she touched the surface of homosexuality to the public unaware of the issue.
The similar pattern continues in her latest effort, Berbagi Suami (literally translated as “Sharing A Husband”, although the official English title is “Love for Share”), and as the title suggests, the film talks about polygamy.
But does the film talk?
Here comes the second point of her directorial trends. She spreads the subject being highlighted, and by doing so, she puts her thoughtful effort to give a politically-correct objective point of view, without necessarily putting in her own belief. Thus, she does not wish to be judgmental or siding to one faith, unlike Oliver Stone in his political series of JFK or Nixon, but rather, she goes for the way Jafar Panahi does The Circle, accommodating as many possible angles as possible, while a little distance away from the likes of, say, The Laramie Project.
It works well, it works not.
The division of the storyline into three (almost) parallel stories, contrasting the risk-and-consequences of polygamy life to one another, gives the audience multiple views of polygamy, leaving the audience choosing on their own. Whether polygamy works by suppressing jealousy, or by leaving the husband for good, or by exploiting every possible chance to make one’s own satisfaction, the effect could not be more satisfying the way a kid is given choices of many flavors in a box of chocolate instead of sticking to one particular flavor.
However, the spread may backlash as it results in the lack of thorough explanation for the subject in focus. This could not be more apparent in the talk-show scene where Salma (played with a great degree of subtlety by Jajang C. Noer) defends her support towards polygamy against her opponent who despises the concept. As the raging discussion continues, while it is still going circle on the facade, DiNata does deus-ex-machina by abruptly inserting the news on tsunami disaster to hijack the whole film throughout, bringing it to another direction.
Which direction will it take then?
The final introductory pattern of DiNata is to leave the audience on their own best to perceive and receive what they see, and perhaps bringing it with them to do any necessary follow-ups on their lives. Certainly Arisan! does not simply end with the two guys embarking on a relationship, and polygamy does not stop when two of four wives leave the man for good.
And maybe this is what DiNata excels best, that in tradition of storyteller, she does not necessarily give the whole story in details. Rather, she tickles her listener by giving a little to think about.
It is understood then that she deserves her own place here.