Director Ravi Bharwani and writer, Rayya Makarim, bring about the face of sexual trauma in the stark yet riveting 27 Steps of May. Released on the same day as Indonesia’s Women’s March, the story trots out an unapologetic study of a tragedy against humanity, especially women, and its aftermath. The message it carries is as timely and timeless as the issue itself; it’s powerful, important and urgent.
When May (Raihaanun) was a teenager, she was gruesomely raped by a group of men. Deeply traumatized by the profane act, May completely withdraws from the society and, even, from any kind of communication. She simply retreats from the “real world.” Her self-blaming, widowed father (Lukman Sardi) is devastated for not being able to protect his only daughter. Both of them succumb in a meaningless life where they are tangled in a cycle of guilt and remorse. The whole picture of how some thoughtless, evil deed ruined other lives is utterly disturbing and harrowing. That’s what 27 Steps of May attempts to transfer to the audiences.
Director Bharwani translates May’s withdrawal from the real world quite literally. Camera follows May’s soulless, monotonous life where silence prevails. She would wake up and exercise, prepares uniformly plain clothes to wear on daily basis, then works quietly with her father to dress up dolls. The only moment May doesn’t follow her monotonous routine is when an event triggers her memory about the rape; she would burst out and cut herself in reconciliation. The picture is disturbing, yet deliberate as 27 Steps of May portrays how mundane and devastated such life would be to convey its message—unraveling the sexual trauma at its unapologetic way.
In a completely different fashion, 27 Steps of May also uncovers how the tragedy has made impact on the life of May’s father. Years of concealed anger and guilt have taken toll on him as well. He would resort to boxing where he would brutally beat an opponent out whenever May’s having an episode. While the fighting choreography never suits him well, Sardi channels his shortcomings into the impression of an unskilled fighter powered only by angers. When it comes to a more dramatic role, Sardi excels—especially in portraying the one-way interaction with May.
Rayya Makarim’s story enters a surreal territory when a small hole starts cracking on May’s confined bedroom wall. Ipung Rachmat Syaiful’s cinematography becomes more enticing as the movie approaches this act. As the hole grows bigger, there are more stories unraveled about May. She begins to see an enigmatic character portrayed by Ario Bayu and she starts looking back to the life she’s been living.
27 Steps of May is a tough watch. It triggers emotion even when the presentation is slow-paced and surreal. Raihaanun anchors all the emotion and delivers it to the audiences with her magnificent portrayal of May. With minimum dialogue, she proves her worth with her gesture and body language—which emanate the bitter, miserable life her character’s been living. In possibly the best performance she had, the actress delivers a stark and raw yet sterling performance to become the soul of this powerful story about sexual trauma. There’s no intention to diminish Lukman Sardi’s performance, but 27 Steps of May is a tour-de-force for Raihaanun.
27 Steps of May (2019)
Drama Directed by: Ravi Bharwani Written by: Rayya Makarim Starred by: Raihaanun, Lukman Sardi, Verdi Solaiman, Ario Bayu Runtime: 112 mins