Salawaku (2017) – Review: A journey to the East

This review is based on the version released in Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival 2016 last December.

Review: Salawaku, a traditional wooden shield from Moluccas, Indonesia, is a small armament. Despite the size, it’s an effective companion to the swiftness of traditional machete for its rigid and stiff apparatus is highly protective.

In Pritagita Arianegara’s directorial debut, Salawaku (newcomer, Elko Kastanya) is only an ordinary child living an extraordinary life. His parents have long passed away, leaving him and his older sister Binaiya (Raihaanun) as orphans. Life has unfairly forced him to be a hard, rigid figure during his childhood – making his character juxtaposed perfectly with the shield.

When Binaiya flees from the island, sails the quiet sea alone to the exile for a reason we have yet to know; Salawaku, as protective as he’s ever been, determines to go after his sister by himself, dividing the wilderness of Ceram Island, Moluccas. Amidst the quest, the boy encounters a Jakarta-based escapee, Saras (Karina Salim), stranded on a remote island alone after a wasted night.

Two loners in an island with different age, different background, and different problem decide to team up on a quest to find Binaiya. Before long, Kawanua (JFlow Matulessy) – an older brother figure to Salawaku – joins the party in a road trip to Piru, a neighboring plantation city where Binaiya allegedly resides now. From there, the journey to East begins. It’s the journey to where everything sets, to the lost family.

Salawaku (2017) - Elko Kastanya & Karina Salim
Salawaku (2017) – Elko Kastanya & Karina Salim

Salawaku, posing as a road film to the exotic Moluccas wildwoods and seashores, is surprisingly embracing the ‘road film spirit’ at its heart. The smell of ‘nobody would ever be the same person after the journey’ is in the air; even when the road trip is about to start. Yet, that’s only a beginning of a journey of reconciliation – with the beloved people and with the conflicting self.

Pushing of from that setup, Pritagita Arianegara turns the script – written by Iqbal Fadly and Titien Wattimena – into a flowing narrative full of revelations. There are several moments where Salawaku takes unexpected twists and turns to spice up the journey. One moment leads to unravel another secret, which goes on until the final revelation, which triggers the change every road film should have.

Perfectly paced and coherent, Salawaku swiftly moves from one place to others with urgency, without being too hasty. It highlights each character’s connection without overlapping to another. Salawaku trusts Kawanua, who takes care of him like his own brothers, and he is often amused by Saras, a perfect mirror from a different background. During the journey, a strange connection is developed between Saras and Kawanua, which annoys Salawaku only to reveal an ultimate twist.

Those complex threads, however, don’t make Salawaku a sophisticated film; in contrast, it’s a simple, sweet story about love and people. Breath-taking view of Moluccas magnificently captured by Faozan Rizal is not merely gimmick to adorn the whole film aesthetically; but, it’s an integral part of the plot – an ornament of the Via Dolorosa – that makes Salawaku one of the most eye-pleasing films in Indonesia to date.

Astounding visual idylls juxtaposes effectively with fluent, exotic performances delivered by ensemble of cast. Newcomer, Elko Kastanya brings life to the titular character reflecting the shield of the same name; he makes the character less artificial by bringing labajua ada hati spirit into his performance (Find out about this on the film!). Elko makes a warm chemistry with Karina Salim as Saras, who comes off from a completely different background. Indonesian foremost rapper, Joshua Matulessy a.k.a. JFlow brings balance into the trinity. However, the MVP is Raihaanun, whose transformation into a local Moluccas girl is astonishing. She mingles and blends-in perfectly and, even, speaks the accent fluently.

Salawaku (2017) - Elko Kastanya, JFlow Matulessy & Karina Salim
Salawaku (2017) – Elko Kastanya, JFlow Matulessy & Karina Salim

As beautiful as the islands, Salawaku is a jewel. It is a sweet, fun road film that gives meaning to the majestic wilderness of Moluccas and to the lesser-known local wisdom. Flowing enticingly, it unravels series of complex threads; showcases its fluent, exotic casts; and invites you to Moluccas, East of Indonesia.

Salawaku (2017)

star3.5Salawaku - Poster via idfilmcritics.com

Drama, Adventure Directed by: Pritagita Arianegara Written by: Iqbal Fadly, Titien Watimena Starred by: Karina Salim, Raihaanun, Elko Kastanya, JFlow Matulessy Runtime: 82 mins

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