Farishad Latjuba’s Mantan Manten could easily slip into a maudlin melodrama or simply a mess given its convoluted, ambitious yet heartbreaking premise. The title (literally meaning: former bride) does not suggest otherwise and we know pretty well how romance movies easily sugar-coats tragedy to push an overemotional haul. And yet, Mantan Manten caught me off guard when it acknowledges the flaws and manages to deliver an emotionally gripping look on letting go of love lost from an unusual view of Javanese matrimony tradition.
The ambitious story revolves around Yusnina (Atiqah Hasiholan, compelling), an accolade-laden investment consultant who holds dear the credo of “believe in money.” She lives the dreamlike life: being a self-made rich, independent woman and then getting proposed by Surya (Arifin Putra), the crown prince of an investment mogul (Tio Pakusadewo) she works for. While the perfect life seems stable, we know and expect the major falls.
The perfect story crumbles when a major investment involving industry moguls is proven to be a fraud. In the attempt to save the sinking ship, Surya’s father uses Yusnina as the scapegoat. At such moment, the world turns upside down for Yusnina: her career falls apart, her financial collapses and her romance is at stake. She lost everything but a villa in rural place whose legality hasn’t been completed; and to complete it, there is only one crucial requirement. The landlady, Koes Marjanti (Tutie Kirana) forces Yusnina to become her assistant as a pemaes, a Javanese makeup and refinery artist. Having no choice, Yusnina takes the offer; and, from there, she descends to a meditative walk in Javanese matrimony mysticism to discover her future among tragedies.
Mantan Manten takes a sudden turn from this point on. What started as symptoms of melodrama transform into an introspective voyage. Tutie Kirana excels as the old pemaes seeking for a successor. As her character guides Yusnina onscreen to discover her true self and to learn to let go, the character also guides audiences to the juxtaposition of Javanese matrimony tradition along with the niches and philosophy with the notion of self-discovery. As Yusnina bonds with Koes Marjanti, we can feel the chemistry roams around the space at the same time as a strange, elusive realization begins to embark.
Mantan Manten showcases a sensible control of character, albeit not all. At first, we learn of Yusnina as a strong-willed character, who can’t even refrain herself from intruding someone’s disastrous wedding back-stage. We’re also introduced to Koes Marjanti whose motivation is baffling to most. And yet, as the story goes, we get to see more sides from the characters that help them transcending their roles eventually. Hasiholan’s Yusnina starts off as a well-polished diamond, but she gets more charming the more she finds out about giving, letting go, and believing in people more than receiving. In a scene which features Sal Priadi’s song “Ikat Aku di Tulang Belikatmu” (literally means “tie me in your shoulder bone”), the movie flaunts the eventual outcome of the transformation in a mesmerizing way.
In knitting all the grand threads, there are moments where Mantan Manten are problematic, especially in terms of pacing; and, the shift isn’t necessarily smooth. The story’s tendency to use subtexts (and at some place, metaphors) might be alienating audiences that did not get it.
For that, Atiqah Hasiholan presents a performance with profound depth to, at least, outshine the flaws.
Mantan Manten (2019)
Romance, Drama Directed by: Farishad Latjuba Written by: Farishad Latjuba, Jenny Jusuf Starred by: Atiqah Hasiholan, Arifin Putra, Tutie Kirana, Marthino Lio Runtime: 102 mins