Asia Pacific Screen Awards, (APSA) are held at Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia (Ceremony was on 11th November 2022
Kamila is the first woman to win the Best Film award at APSA, and also the first director who has directed three films which have won major categories at APSA. Her first one was “The Mirror Never Lies”/”Laut Bercermin” (2012) and then in 2017 “The Seen and Unseen”/ “Sekala Niskala”, both of which won the category Best Youth Film, which means films about young people, (but not necessarily for viewing by young people.) Now Kamila has followed those two youth films with two films for adults, both of which are about women’s lives. There was “Yuni”, and now “Before, Now & Then” or (Nana), her winning film in this week’s APSA. Still in her early thirties, Kamila is a mother of two young daughters, and her husband Ifa Isfansyah, has also been a film director of some note in Indonesia, but now concentrates on producing films for his wife. The reason – he told this writer back in 2017, “She’s a better director than me.”
Kamila is actually a writer/director, and she has a deeply sensitive and empathetic nature, and her stories so far filmed have all been about what she knows best – the lives of women and children. I can say that because I have known her for a very long time, since she was still a student.
Photo of Kamila Andini (below) by Cynthia Webb..This was in 2017 when she was at APSA that year. After the photo of Kamila scroll on down and you will find my review comments and background to the film, about the culture of 1960s Java, the events that are the background to Nana’s story as told by Kamila Andini. This will help explain it more, to people who do not know the history and culture of Java, even though they may have seen the film.
Kamila was unable to attend the APSA awards at Gold Coast in November 2022, because at the time she was in Poland where her film was screening. So the beautiful ceramic vase which is the APSA prize, was accepted by the Indonesian actress who played the title role, Happy Salma, in the Best Film of APSA this year.
The film tells the story of Nana, a 40-ish Javanese woman, in her second marriage to an older, and but prosperous and kindly husband, with whom she has three children, but whom she has not been able to feel more than sincere affection for. It is because she is haunted by dark and tragic events in her past, during 1965’s terrifying era of political unrest and regime change in Indonesia, when an unknown number, but at least one million died in massacres across the archipelago. Her father and brother died, and her first husband (with whom she had a baby son ) has disappeared and is presumed dead, but she is still in love with him. Hence her second marriage where she has a nice comfortable life and a husband who is kind but unfaithful. He understands her completely. However the dark history has filled her present (now) existence with terrible nightmares, and her waking hours with the ever present shadow of unresolved grief. Happy Salma, with her very expressive face, perfectly embodies Nana, whose serene exterior belies the turmoil within. There is always visible, a sort of nervousness and vulnerability, because she often sleeps so badly, disturbed by her memories. It is a fine performance.
The film unfolds in a typically Javanese gentle pace with that culture’s gracious manners, social activities, and household life. We are invited to evening dancing in traditional style, accompanied by the sweet hypnotic Gamelan music of Java. Afternoon tea on the terrace, with other women from the village during ‘sore’ (soray) the cooling off time in late afternoon. I read a review by someone from Europe, who thought the film beautiful, but too slow in pace, however as someone who has lived in Java for several years in the last two decades, I know that that’s how life is lived. It is the tropics, it is very hot and often extremely humid in the wet season, and afternoon naps are customary and necessary. It is a culture of exquisite manners, and politeness, quiet-speaking, gentle movements and the way Kamila has shown us Nana’s life, is of course correct. After all, she is Javanese herself, although a thoroughly modern woman as well.
As the film is set in the late 1960s, the country is changing, because it has recently opened up to the Western influences, under the new regime of President Suharto. People still talk in fearful whispers about those dreadful events in 1965/66 and everyone knows families who have lost a male member or several, or is such a family. They also wonder about the whereabouts and safety of their beloved Sukarno, the ex President and founding father of the nation of Indonesia, in August 1945. Today, the Dutch still say the independence date is 1949 because after the end of World War Two, the Japanese departed, but the Dutch Colonialists still actually had the unrealistic idea that they could return and carry on where they left off, at the time when they fled the Japanese invasion of 1942. During the period 1945-1949 the Indonesians had to fight them in a War of Independence, even though Sukarno had already declared Independence, 17 August, 1945.
However in the later 1960s you see in the film, that the times are definitely different, as General Suharto, now President, was Pro-USA. The CIA had aided in the regime change action that brought him to power, and in the following murderous months 6-8 that followed, which were to destroy the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) forever, and to instill terror into the people so that they would accept the new situation. (Incidentally, this is now known as The Jakarta Method, and those words were written on the walls in Santiago, Chile in 1973, when another CIA supported coup occurred and the same terror-tactic of killing left-wing citizens was used.)
In the film Javanese women are sometimes seen wearing Western style clothing, and smoking too, however their personal lives are still essentially traditional. It is only on the ‘outside’ – this modernization, and their souls are still bound to Javanese ways.
There is very good and enjoyable use of popular music of the time, to be enjoyed, and the cinematography and locations are very beautiful. Kamila’s screenplay is cleverly interwoven with flash-backs which come in her dreams, and tell us about what ails her, what she has seen, experienced, and is still struggling with. When she gains a new friend, played by Laura Basuki, who won Best Supporting Performer at the Berlin International Film Festival for her inspiring performance, as someone who represents the free and unfettered modern younger woman of the new times. In spite of the fact that they have reasons why they could have been enemies, the two of them form a close bond and the younger woman encourages Nana to take actions that she couldn’t have done shortly before. Although terrified, following her friend, Nana takes a symbolic leap from a high rock into a turbulent water pool below, just as at the end of the film she takes a real life leap into her own future.
I saw the film about three weeks ago, in the Brisbane International Film Festival, and I am re-living it now, as I write. I wish Kamila and her film a successful future, (such as we hope for Nana at the end of the film). “Before, Then & Now” deserves to be widely seen and Kamila, still so young, has a very bright future ahead of her.
by Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, Queensland, Austrtalia
See below – photo by Cynthia Webb of Happy Salma, who plays Nana in “Before, Now & Then”, arriving at Asia Pacific Screen Awards, where she later had the thrill of accepting the stylish ceramic vase which is APSA’s trophy, on behalf of the Producers and the director of the film.
ALSO – the Poster for the film, from the sold out screening at the Berlin International film Festival, where Laura Basuki (playing Nana’s younger friend, who is the symbol of women of the new times of Indonesia in the late 1960s and when slowing women’s lives began to open and be more free and full of opportunities. Kamila Andini herself is today a representative of the progress for women in the almost 60 years between “then and now”.