Beyond the beautifully staged and shot pictures, Ave Maryam is a black comedy with Catholic guilt as the punchline. Rich with subtexts; but modest, if not poor, with narrative impact.
Underneath the beautiful cinematography and poetic, rare dialogues, Ertanto Robby Soediskam’s Ave Maryam (a more clinical title compared to its metaphorical working title, ‘Salt is Leaving the Sea’) is a black comedy with Catholic guilt as the punch-line. The guilt is the love manifested in four unique forms of love found in the Bible to contradict each other. All the burden of love is the cross that Sister Maryam (Maudy Koesnaedi, profoundly) has to bear in her Via Dolorosa of life.
Solemnly vowed to the monastery, Sister Maryam dedicates her life to fulfill the ‘agape’ love to God. She gives up all her ephemeral, worldly desire and devotes her life to loving others—including her fellow nuns and parish pastor living in nearby presbytery—manifesting her ‘philia’ kind of love. However, her true devotion is in his daily task along with Sister Mila (Olga Lidya) to look after elderly nuns—taking care of them like her own motherly figures, presenting her ‘storge´ kind of love. A storm arises when a new orchestra-admiring pastor, Father Yosef (Chicco Jerikho), arrives for parochial duties. The kind of love she has vowed to abstain from happens and, Maryam struggles to suppress the forbidden ‘eros’ love. Yet, it’s not an unrequited one.
With its 73-minute duration, Ave Maryam seems to poetically romanticize the forbidden love between Maryam and Yosef—making a rather tongue-to-cheek allusion to Mary and Joseph, but at the same time, also alluding the first sin of temptation by Eve and Adam. However, viewing this solely as a tale of forbidden love between a nun and a pastor is somehow misleading, although not wrong. Writer-director, Ertanto Robby Soediskam, spends most of the story observing how Sister Maryam loving in all the biblical love. She attends mass, prepares lunch for the priests, does the chores in the monastery, helps the elderly nuns including bathing them, and, at times, silently witnesses Father Yosef conducting the parish orchestra prepared for Christmas. From the look of her eyes, we know something arises from within her; and, when Yosef keeps coaxing, we learn from the look as well, that she restrains it. There’s where the black comedy happens.
It’s the consequence of choices. Maryam has chosen, deliberately and freely, to follow God through the way of nun-hood. And yet, “spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak,” hence this pitch-black comedy sugarcoated with romance. The climax of the bitter comedy is the confession scene, where Maryam confesses in a secluded chamber to Yosef. The scene is powerful and melancholic, but ironically funny even if it doesn’t intend to. I, personally, almost laugh on the revelation that humans cannot, consciously, agape the good God and eros the good person to the same amount when a choice is made.
Conflict-wise, Ave Maryam is quiet. The forbidden romance is viewed as a mere exposition same as other depictions of biblical love. Soediskam makes the story rich with subtexts; but modest, if not poor, with narrative impact. Conflicts are portrayed with silence, stares, and blocking; kudos to DoP, Ical Tanjung, who captures most frames beautifully and meaningfully. With an interesting, thought-provoking premise, viewers are not wrong to expect a riveting drama; but, Ave Maryam isn’t here to present it all. It arrives to portray biblical love, and, on top of it, to echo Pope Francis’ famous quote” “Who am I to judge?”