A COPY OF MY MIND ( Indonesia, 2015)
Joko Anwar’s Jakarta – a huge city where a large majority of the people struggle each day to make a living. They often work for tiny incomes, and they know the way to survive – eating Indo-Mie and living in cheap accommodation.
There is also a rapidly growing middle class including an inspiring group of creatives, intellectuals and good, hard-working families.
And of course the city contains people of the other extreme – rich beyond the imagining of the masses, and sometimes they are corrupt opportunists and even politicians too.
The film’s events take place during an election campaign, and Joko Anwar has taken advantage of the powerful street scenes and demonstrations during the election of 2014, when President Joko Widodo was elected, with a small majority. Those with all the hopes pinned on him were voting for a President who knows them, is “from them”, (not the Elite) and is without suspicion of corruption.
Indonesians are totally fed up and want an honest Democracy, after 32 years of Military Dictatorship, and an interim period since the fall of Suharto (May 1998), where corruptors were still pulling the strings in the background.
So in this complex socio-political situation, amongst this seething mass of humanity, we meet two nice young people from the first group. Sari works for a pittance in a rather run-down beauty salon, giving facials. Alek works for one of the businesses in Chinatown, where DVDs are pirated, putting Indonesian subtitles to newly released foreign films, and sometimes including porn movies – and not very good sub-titles either! The pay is ridiculously small, but he’s not so good at the job and it is all supposed to be illegal anyway. Those who have lived in Jakarta, and bought these discs, know that bad subtitles are common, whatever the original language of the film, until the piraters get their hands on the official international DVD release.
It was helpful of the director to tell us (within dialogue between Alek and Sari), which are the better quality DVDs (technically) and how to distinguish them from the lesser ones! The piraters copy everything – cinema rubbish, and Cannes Film Festival or Oscar winners, without discretion. They don’t know the difference, and often put wrong pictures and text on the packages too, which can sometimes give the more knowledgeable viewer more amusement than the disc inside.
Joko Anwar is a cinephile, with a huge body of knowledge of world cinema, as well as knowing how to make a good film himself. I would hazard a guess that he got this opportunity from watching a lot of pirated films, which have served their purpose well, in helping create one of Indonesia’s best film contemporary directors.
The atmosphere of the film is authentic in every detail, because Joko Anwar knows his city, and he has filmed in the city’s streets and back alleys, in real pirate DVD outlets, and Beauty Salons.
The inspiration to shoot his stars mingling in the real political campaign crowds really adds to the tension, when the plot steps up the pace in the latter part of the film. Election campaigning and demonstrations really bring out huge crowds into the streets and stadiums. Something politicians in Australia (for example) could only envy. But Indonesians have relatively recently fought a war of independence (with Dutch Colonialists and their allies) to run their own country, and now appreciate that they have a chance to live in what is probably South East Asia’s best (only?) democracy, so they are extremely interested in the politicians and the election campaigns. It’s not perfect yet, but they are working on it.
In this way Joko Anwar has told us a lot about his city and his country, which really enriches the story and our understanding of who these two young lovers are, and why they live the way they do.
Sari loves to watch Monster and Alien movies, and we meet her in a huge DVD store in Glodok, North Jakarta, (Chinatown), trying to exchange a DVD that has garbled Indonesian subtitles. Near here she meets Alek, the man who did those sub-titles, and after not long at all, his irresistible flirting and charm convinces her that he’s a nice guy and she goes with him to his room to look at his DVD collection. He lends her a handful of movies, a clever move, because he wants her to come back to return them. Soon they are lovers and their relationship develops into real love.
BUT, Sari is unhappy in her dead-end job, and she takes a position in an upmarket salon where conditions and the pay will be better, after her initial training period. After a week or so she’s not happy with a two week training period because she feels she already knows the work. The boss (Paul Agusta) compromises with her by sending her to care for a private client, who is in jail for corruption. This woman, Mrs Mirna, is at first wary of the new girl, but is soon talking a lot, while enjoying her facial treatment. Her jail cell looks more like a 4-star hotel room, (another slice of reality, in Indonesia, where well-connected and rich prisoners can have this privilege). Along with her flat screen TV she has a DVD collection. Sari spots one she’d like to watch, “Piranha v. Anacobra”, and slips it into her bag while her client is in the bathroom, intending to return it next time. It’s no Art-House film, but by now we know that she’s a sweet and smart, yet simple girl who has only recently come to Jakarta from a small town or village, to try to make a better life for her-self.
But this DVD is the cause of the lovers’ idyllic and passionate relationship running into trouble. When they start watching it, they see that the disc inside the packet is not “Piranha v. Anacobra”, but a private DVD recording of Mrs Mirna negotiating a corrupt deal for forest land on which to cut the trees and replace them with a resort. And she is talking with some of the highest level politicians of the time, who are now running for office, or trying to hold on to their places in Government. Their faces have been seen by the young protagonists, and by us, on TV several times.
The conversation reveals many topical issues of today’s Indonesia, such as polygamy, illegal deforestation and of course the ingrained corruption that still exists.
Sari asks her boss to send her back to replace the DVD, and has to confess to him what she has done, but it’s already too late. He gets violent and scared too. He tells her to just forget it, and go into hiding immediately.
But, the secret DVD has been missed already, and the crooks are on her trail. She is now not living in her own “Kost” (cheap room in a hostel), but hiding out at Alek’s place, which neither her boss nor the thugs know about. There she replaces him, as he has gone missing. She buys food for the invalid landlady downstairs, as he did, in return for free accommodation. Her own children are too busy to bother about her.
However, Alek has gone to Sari’s room to find her, and there some thugs grabbed him, put a bag over his head, beat him, and kidnapped him. The stakes are high, and once on their territory they beat him cruelly, but he will not tell them where Sari is.
Meantime Sari is desperately looking for him, walking in the election campaigning crowds, with a feeling of real dread in her heart, whose anxious throbbing is accentuated by beating drums of the marchers.
She has to find another way to dispose of the DVD, and her idea is the best bit of inspiration in Joko Anwar’s clever screenplay, which will be of great satisfaction to viewers of this well-made film, which mixes a love story with a thriller.
The love-scenes and a masturbation scene in the screener version I saw, appear sure to upset the Indonesian censors who will probably demand cuts if this film is to get general distribution. However, meantime, it is having a successful trip around the Film Festival circuit, Venice, Toronto, and Busan, South Korea.
Joko Anwar is a unique Indonesian film-maker, as his film-making style clearly demonstrates all that he has learned from a lifetime of consuming foreign-films and learning well from some of the best films ever made. Pirate DVDs were the only way to access most of them. His films stand out from other films made in Indonesia, by being edgy, daring, controversial and thoroughly contemporary.
“A Copy of My Mind” has an international style, although it’s subject matter and setting are totally Indonesian.
It stars, Chicco Jerikho as Alek and Tara Basro, as Sari. There is a short appearance by Aryo Bayu,as “man in black and Maera Panigoro plays Mrs Mirna. Paul Agusta, another Jakarta cinphile”, plays the Salon Manager, and Ronny P. Chandra plays “Mr Ronny”.
Paul Agusta’s character is another typical (and topical) Jakarta character. While trying to present the image of a boss of a high class establishment, he keeps on slipping into English when speaking with Sari about her job. Using English is trendy, to show your sophistication, and appear smarter than others. Some commentators criticize this and say it’s a cultural cringe, and that people should use and be proud of their own language, which is quite adequate for most purposes.
All aspects of the jig-saw puzzle that is a film, are good, and it is so great to see an Indonesian film which can hold its own both at home, and internationally, and I enjoyed it very much.
Copyright, by Cynthia Webb (March, 2016)
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