Amidst the frustrating COVID-19 pandemic, BASE Entertainment (Indonesian-Singaporean production company behind Joko Anwar’s Impetigore and Riri Riza’s Bebas) produced a multi-genre omnibus called Quarantine Tales. By putting together 5 short films under one umbrella theme—quarantine, the omnibus showcases works from a mix-and-match combo of seasoned and rising Indonesian directors. The omnibus also marks the directorial debut of prominent Indonesian actress, Dian Sastrowardoyo (Ada Apa dengan Cinta and Kartini), alongside other works from acclaimed director, Ifa Isfansyah (Sang Penari, Pendekar Tongkat Emas), as well as promising names, such as Jason Iskandar (whose full-feature debut, Akhirat: A Love Story) is coming soon, Sidharta Tata (Tunnel), and Aco Tenriyagelli.
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The tales begin with Nougat, Sastrowardoyo’s slice-of-life drama that pits together three sisters over keeping their parents’ house. The breakthrough director brings fellow Ada Apa dengan Cinta cast, Adinia Wirasti, to star alongside Marissa Anita and Faradina, as sisters communicating only through video calls over several years leading up to the event in 2020. The second segment is Iskandar’s Prankster, a vibrant and stylish e-revenge dramedy confronting Roy Sungkono against Windy Apsari to satirize social media prank-show. Isfansyah’s Cook Book comes up next with a dystopian drama about a lonely chef (Verdi Solaiman) aspiring to write a novel instead of a cook book during the pandemic. Tenriyagelli has Arawinda Kirana stealing the show in the fourth segment, Happy Girls Don’t Cry, a black comedy that seamlessly intertangles pandemic-driven quarantine, poverty issue, grief, and social media giveaway. The final short is The Protocols, a tongue-to-cheek thriller by Tata with a poignant message about putting forward enhanced health protocols in every job—including heist job.
While Quarantine Tales cannot quite find the consensus for the quarantine—be it pandemic-oriented or something else, each short film in the omnibus shares the same ground about how people are constricted in terms of mobilization and interaction. Nougat, for example, can happen anytime (not always during the pandemic) and still become the very same film. However, there’s this sense of constriction and limited interaction as the characters interact only via video calls (with significant techno-trend shift as the time stamp—from Skype, to WhatsApp, to eventually Zoom). The chemistry between Wirasti and Anita, most importantly, with Faradina as the cherry on top helps to resonate the distant that feels so close yet so far, seaming this segment to the umbrella theme. After all, Sastrowardoyo still delivers a warm story even when relying heavily on the leads’ performance. Prankster, with the colorful world, wide, web building, can also stand independently as the e-thriller relies on the internet-use more than the restricted mobility. Story-wise, it makes an effective satire to the toxic internet trends, even when its final revelation feels abrupt and the encore unnecessary.
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The final three segments, on the other hand, suggest that they belong to the same pandemic-laden world, even when the genres vary. Isfansyah’s elegiac dystopia sets the bar high. Solaiman embraces the lonesome man persona magnificently. During the quarantine, he begins to lose touch of the reality and the sense of longing begins to unravel. As a coping mechanism, his character cooks—not only to survive or to prove that he’s still a good chef, but he does so to bring back memory and documents the dishes like a photo album full of memories. It’s always astonishing to relish in the gastronomic journey before the bittersweet dessert is served. Tenriyagelli’s debut follows up on the same height as Cook Book with a poignant social commentary amidst the pandemic. People have lost jobs, money, and even beloved ones due to the pandemic; but, some other people still enjoy opulent lifestyle and, even, go the extra miles by hosting social media giveaway. For charity or for engagement? Are they the actual saint or sinner? That depends. Happy Girls Don’t Cry doesn’t intend to serve the answer; yet, it shows just how visible the social and economical gap is during this challenging time. The final segment by the director who brings the one-of-a-kind neo-noir comedy, Loz Jogjakartoz (deserving full feature treatment for the original idea alone) ends the omnibus with a playful, edge-of-the-seat thriller that doesn’t exude seriousness, but ultimately delivering a serious message in an unlikely way.
Quarantine Tales doesn’t always deliver the same height of appeal in each tale; but, it’s an exhilarating experience to remind us just how frustratingly extraordinary the pandemic has been. The consensus isn’t always met, yet, this omnibus still delivers fresh takes of claustrophobic drama with all the excitement it brings about. It’s exhilarating to witness how brilliant minds can still deliver great stories even when resources are limited.