“The Mirror Never Lies” (“Laut Bercermin”) 2011, Indonesia.  Directed by Kamila Andini

Review by Cynthia Webb

IMG_8687IMG_8692IMG_8678IMG_8680 Photos courtesy of the film producers, Garin Nugroho, Nadine Chandrawinata, Pemda Kabupaten Wakatobi, World Wildlife Fund – Indonesia.

I never tire of the breathtaking beauty of this film, which shows us the way of life of the Bajo people (Sea Gypsies) of Wakatobi, Suluwesi. They live an idyllic life on the sea and from the sea, at one with nature. However the story shows us that the sea can be beautiful and generous, or it can suddenly become cruel. The Bajo understand this only too well.
The screenplay contains several themes: Conservation of nature, family bonds, grief, loneliness, and intimations of womanhood within young Pakis, (Gita Novalista), who is waiting for her father (lost at sea on a fishing trip) to return. Her mother, Tayung, (Atiqah Hasiholan) is already grieving, her face is a ghost-like mask, covered by a thick layer of white paste, except around her eyes. This gives the look of a skull, symbol of death.
Because Pakis won’t accept that her father isn’t coming back, she and her mother are at odds, and this is aggravated when a sad young man from Jakarta arrives in the bamboo village, built on stilts over the coral reef. Tayung’s home is the only one that has space for a guest, (the vacant room of her lost husband), so the village head-man decides they must be his hosts. Pakis resents another man in her father’s room, but then as she watches him, she feels stirrings she hardly understands.
The guest, Mr Tudo,(Reza Rahadian) is in the Bajo village to do research on dolphins, but he too is grieving. He has in his belongings, a white dress that was obviously for his bride, who is also gone. We’re not told the details. He sometimes caresses that dress, while in another room Tayung is caressing the sarung (garment) of her husband.
Pakis observes all this and stays up most of the night, sleepless and longing for her father to come home.
There are many lighter moments, where Pakis and her village playmates go about their daily routines, tend their pets and laugh, sing, and dance. However Pakis is preoccupied, and often visits a village elder with her mirror, (a gift from her father) through which she thinks she can somehow bring him back.
“The Mirror Never Lies” is utterly ravishing to our eyes, and our senses. Almost every frame is a work of art. There are expansive skies, in daylight and at sunset, full moon in the night sky, storms and tornados at sea, glassy water shimmering on windless days, canoes silently gliding across the water, the world beneath the surface of the water, coral and sea-life. There are colourful scenes in the small huts of the village, with traditional textiles, plastic implements for practical purposes, surrounded by the all-natural bamboo structures.
We see the freedom and early independence of the children, who all swim like fish, and are very capable in their canoes and in doing their chores. They go to school in canoes too.
During the leisurely pace of the film, which perfectly portrays the lifestyle in this Bajo village, we see the precious community which binds them together, through small details, and through important scenes of life rituals, wedding, funeral, and offerings to the sea, which Pakis says is “her big mirror”.
Through narration we sometimes hear Pakis’ thoughts, as she tells us the valuable things that she has learned from her beloved father. When at last the sea offers up evidence that it has indeed taken him, she has the support of her two young friends, and it is almost a relief for her, to let him go from her life, but keep him in her heart. Now she and her mother can be close again.
The cinematography, editing, music, and design are perfection, and the actors also capture our attention and our hearts. The film is so subtle and has an exquisite beauty that is rarely seen on screen. This cinema gem is Kamila Andini’s first feature film. However it’s a film about children, rather than for children. (The DVD will be available in Indonesia around September this year.) – Cynthia Webb, July 2015
Asia Pacific Screen Awards: Best Youth Feature Film 2011
Cinemanila: “Special Mention” in category, Best South East Asian Film
Taipei Film Festival: “Special Mention” in International New Talent Award
and “Special Mention” in Competition also.
Hong Kong International Film Festival: FIPRESCI PRIZE
Tokyo International Film Festival: “Special Mention” in Asian Film Award category,
And Earth Grand Prix

About cynephilia

Lifetime student of and devourer of international Cinema. Artist, teacher, traveller - especially to my "other home", Java, Indonesia. Features writer for 14 years, for The Jakarta Post, national English language daily newspaper. I was born in New Zealand, but lived in Queensland, Australia since 1970. My profound link with Indonesia began in 1983, when visiting Bali (then an island of arts and of inspiration for an artist), and then again in 1994 when a visit to Yogyakarta, Java, began a process of that town and it's warm people becoming another home and extended family for me. Yogyakarta is the Artistic capital of Indonesia, and so it was the place for me. In 2000 I became a regular contributor about the arts for The Jakarta Post, and cinema, my lifetime passion, later began to become my focus for writing. The advent of The Asia Pacific Screen Awards, (APSA) in South East Queensland, launched in 2007 gave me opportunities to meet some the great film-makers of Asia, and see their amazing work. APSA is a kind of "Oscars" for the Asia-Pacific Region.
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