Best of 2022: Indonesian Cinema

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Welcome back to SINEKDOKS’ Best Of series – a compilation to honor the best films every year. For the 2022 edition, I’ll kick off with a list of best Indonesian films of 2022. This is a list that I should’ve made at least once since years ago (but not). I’m only hoping this will be a start of something amusing going forward. Fingers crossed.

A Year to Celebrate

Indonesian cinema hit another milestone year in terms of ticket sales – surpassing even the pre-pandemic record.

Awi Suryadi‘s KKN di Desa Penari heralded this historic year by breaking the box office record – selling 9.2-something million tickets during its first run that eventually prompts a second run with an extended cut subtitled Luwih Dowo Luwih Medeni (trans. longer & scarier). Pengabdi Setan 2: Communion, Joko Anwar‘s follow-up to the 2017 hit, tailed behind with 6.3-something million tickets sold – surpassing the predecessor. Miracle in Cell No. 7, a remake of South Korean dramedy, followed through after garnering 5.8-something viewers.

On another note, a massive breakthrough also occurred in 2022 as Netflix sealed some lucrative deals with several powerhouses in Indonesia’s film industry. This aims for more high-profile original programmings coming through their platforms. The outcome has been amusing so far as Timo Tjahjanto‘s macabre reputation and penchant for ultra-violence brought his Netflix original film, The Big 4, to the top of worldwide chart at the end of the year.

Indonesian horror films of 2022

One of the highest-profile film festival, JAFF (Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival) also broke its own attendance record with line-ups consisting of award-darlings, including Kamila Andini‘s and Makbul Mubarak‘s films. Like I said before, maybe it’s a start of something wonderful, after all.

Honorable Mentions

Before delving deeper into the list of best Indonesian films in 2022, it’s only fair to give some shoutouts to some films that almost made it.

Randolph Zaini‘s Preman (Silent Fury) belongs to it. The bizarre genre mashup looks closer to an arthouse actioner despite being clad with oddball Lynchian drama – about a deaf gangster (portrayed by Khiva Iskak) navigating away from the brutal life that has caught up with his family.

Next to it is the Indonesian answer to Ingmar Bergman‘s Scenes from a Marriage, Noktah Merah Perkawinan (directed by Sabrina Rochelle Kalangie). It’s an adaptation of an iconic 90s soap opera known for being campy and overdramatic. The featured film, however, beefs it up with more subtleties and heavyweight performance by Oka Antara and Marsha Timothy. Unfortunately, it will always be remembered as a case of mismarketing.

Adriyanto Dewo‘s Galang deserves a place among the honorable mentions as well. The story might be about a grieving boy (Elang El Gibran) seeking solace within the underground music scene he blamed for her sister’s death; but, this nuanced drama captures the nature of tragedy in a raw yet ironic sense – something that no other films do as elegantly.

Some Best Indonesian Films from 2022

Other honorable mentions include hi-fi blockbusters, i.e., Tjahjanto‘s The Big 4 and Angga Dwimas Sasongko‘s art-heist, Mencuri Raden Saleh.

Best Indonesian Films of 2022

Best Indonesian films of 2022 that top this list, despite portraying different stories with different themes, share the same DNA: irony. Dualism looks like a recurring theme in that binds them altogether. There’s power that makes or breaks; faith that brings salvation or sacrifice; love that holds dear or sets free; youth that is beautiful or nightmarish. There’s beauty in those contradictory natures.

Here are the best Indonesian films of 2022 compiled by SINEKDOKS.

05. Qodrat

Plot: A man of faith and an ex-convict all at once, that’s who Qodrat is. Now he’s got to return to the place where his perils began – facing the sinister force that haunts him and the whole village.

Vino G. Bastian starring in Qodrat

Charles Gozali‘s Qodrat is the true embodiment of daddy films that finds a way for a chaotic, but cool genre mashup. Basically, it presents the plot as a grotesque horror in The Exorcist fashion but of Islamic lore. Yet, the supernatural elements take an unexpected turn along the way, evolving into a supernatural actioner (like Constantine) with full-clad 80s machismo, well-placed sermon (alongside catchy one-liners, of course), and wicked sense of humor.

In a year when the industry attempted to knock on the CBM (comic-book movie) door with several conspicuous blockbusters, Qodrat ends up being the CBM of the year – despite not being an adaptation of anything, by delivering the spectacular elements proficiently and embracing the campiness dearly. Furthermore, Vino G. Bastian‘s action-hero persona is simply iconic.

04. Ngeri-Ngeri Sedap

Plot: An elderly couple (Tika Panggabean and Arswendy Bening) stages a desperate ploy to bring their estranged children home by faking their divorce.

Tika Panggabean and Arswendy Bening Nasution in Ngeri-Ngeri Sedap

Ngeri Ngeri Sedap (international title: Missing Home) is Indonesia’s official submission for Best International Feature for the Academy Award. While it’s an anomaly, it’s not unprecedented. Bene Dion Rajagukguk‘s only second feature is a huge leap forward in both his directing and writing capability (his first feature, Ghost Writer, is an excellent debut).

The writer-director has announced himself as an adept storyteller with penchant for witticism and sharp comedic timing. His second film is highly personal and it shows. The North Sumatran set works as a real driving force to the narrative; and casting mostly Sumatran-descend actors brings more than just authenticity. There’s sincerity in every corner of it.

The film cleverly uses irony as the narrative fuel to reunite a dysfunctional family into a series of contrastive interpolations—comedy in drama, bitterness in the sweetness, truth in lies, modernity in culture. Each element is carefully written to reflect the irony, i.e., pitting conservatism against progressivism, from the get-go. The result is a clever dramedy that is hilarious and sentimental at once.

03. Like & Share

Plot: Growing up or growing apart? That’s the question for two best friends, Lisa (Aurora Ribero) and Sarah (Arawinda Kirana), as they try to stick together navigating their coming of age that suddenly becomes perilous and confusing at the same time.

Aurora Ribero and Arawinda Kirana starring in Like & Share, best Indonesian films of 2022

By any means, this might be the most thought-provoking (or, for some, straightforward provoking) Indonesian film in 2022. Gina S. Noer returns to prominence with this important film whose theme resonates profoundly with the internet society.

Like & Share tackles its series of serious theme through a raw yet candid story about friendship, sexual awakening, and the blatant deconstruction of consent. Striking imagery and contrastive themes are recurring events like dualism in motion. At times, it seems delicate, but also sensuous; innocent, but violent; pious, but judging. There might be a lot of things (mostly bitter pills) to swallow in one go; but Noer carefully measures the portion.

Knowing that sexuality might not be a thing to discuss for everyone, Like & Share simplifies (know that the word “simplifies” here might sound simplifying; it’s more like making it more universal) it by deconstructing the importance of consent – for any context it might be relevant. It’s meant to create ripples, to ignite sparks of discussion for those willing to listen; and, boy, does it deliver.

02. Before, Now & Then (Nana)

Plot: After escaping a war-torn past, Nana (Happy Salma) finds a second refuge when she marries a wealthy older man. There, she contemplates the meaning of freedom in life as her past and present collide.

Laura Basuki (left) and Happy Salma (right) in Before, Now & Then (Nana), best Indonesian films of 2022

Andini‘s Before, Now & Then has garnered massive award buzz since as early as February 2022 and it actually deserves all of those.

Salma breathes life into Nana — who almost look like a composite portrayal of war-torn women — elegantly. Her hair knotted high with pin when she’s in public– reflecting her freedom, knotted by duties as a woman, and her authority, pinned down by the man she swears to love. When she’s alone with her husband, she lets her hair down. This is reflective to how her husband limits interaction with her in public, but floods everything overwhelmingly in private.

Mise-en-scene that works beyond aesthetics and writhing scoring that cuts deep help Andini crafts this film with precision & depth in each layer. Nana often takes center stage (literally) with the downstage reserved (either for framing or for other characters). This gives a sense of isolation and an impression that she might be the main character in this story, but not in the world she lives in.

While Salma elevates the story with her presence, Laura Basuki adds depth to it while providing extra layer for Nana’s characterizations. Not only does her character becomes an antithesis, she also sets off as a catalyst at the same time. There, she graces the screen whenever she’s on screen – signifying how Before, Now & Then is sensibly and carefully written to make us feel the guilt-ridden women, yearning for fulfillment and freedom.

01. Autobiography

Plot: A former military general (Arswendy Bening) returns to his hometown to quench his thirst for political glory. There, he takes a naive boy (Kevin Ardilova) under his wing and shows him the true face of power – the one that can make or break people.

Kevin Ardilova (front) and Arswendy Bening (back) in Autobiography

In Makbul Mubarak‘s feature debut, history is just a giant house of mirror and power is a game of chess. Autobiography allows the film-scholar-turned-filmmaker to dissect Indonesia’s somber history and add a harrowing context to make it work like an unnerving thriller. There’s a looming force to reckon with — so powerful that it corrupts, blinds, and confines people without any warning.

The narrative cuts deep and sharp with scalpel-precision, unearthing old wounds that still ache until now. Each of the plot point is meticulously thought of, making every layer of it works. I’m losing count on how many times the plot elements feel like a synecdochical autobiography of a one-man nation. Under a pretense of nature-or-nurture father and son story, Autobiography eerily reminds us how bapakisme negara is a real thing somewhere in our history.

It’s a heavyweight cinema.

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