It’s easy to denigrate Noktah Merah Perkawinan (The Red Point of Marriage – for the international Netflix release) for being what it’s not. Calling it a rip-off of Western marriage stories (e.g., Marriage Story or Scene from a Marriage) is a plain understatement due to the different perspective on marriage in the Eastern culture. Meanwhile, accusing it for riding the wave (of soap-opera remake and affair-themed story) would underplay the amount of craftsmanship that makes it one of the best Indonesian films of 2022. In truth, this is a rare case where a remake pays tribute respectfully to the source material and, at the same time, stand out independently as a standalone work.
Hit Me, Baby, One More Time
In the heat of an argument, Gilang (Oka Antara) pulls his final stunt – threatening to hit his wife if she decides not to end the friction. Having the upper ground, Ambar (Marsha Timothy), the wife, instead challenges her husband to just hit her and be done with it. “Tampar aku, Mas. Tampar!” (trans. “Hit me, Husband. Hit me!”) she urges. And, there goes a direct reenactment of an iconic scene from a cult soap opera of the same title.
Director Sabrina Rochelle Kalangie (Terlalu Tampan) does the scene justice. She makes it a pivotal moment that actually gives the argument a new, more comprehensive meaning to the remake. It’s not a mere recreation for the sake of it. There’s a whole new depth added that, ironically, adds a massive emotional height to it. That scene alone is reflective to what this remake offers: a timeless and relevant observation of marriage.
This scene only arrives deeper into the film; but, it goes even deeper to the complexity of what the conflict transpires through the narrative. Noktah Merah Perkawinan doesn’t start at the beginning. By the time the film starts, Gilang and Ambar have been drown neck-deep into their marriage friction. In a seemingly futile attempt to resolve this, they trace back to the roots of the problem. However, the deeper they go the more futile it becomes as they only find yet another head-biting-tail situation. The problem is, marriage problems are never bound to one source of conflict and one solution.
From the external intervention (ahem, parental) to internal incompatibility, Noktah Merah Perkawinan ensures that marriage isn’t to be taken lightly. Bottomline is, this is not a mere union of two persons. It’s a communion of families, communities, ways of life, and whatnots. While it’s not much different to its Western counterparts, the part where families from both spouses having a lot of says in the marriage makes it a unique perspective to observe. It’s a case in point to distant the narrative from the Hollywood marriage films whose influences are virtually visible in this one.
A Case of Mis(tress)marketing
There’s another gripping perspective that this drama offers. Yet, more often than not, a case of mismarketing and a stereotypical wave found in similarly-themed stories overshadow it. Ironically, it’s also a case on point with the role of Sheila Dara Aisha‘s character in the story.
Rochelle Kalangie and co-writer, Titien Wattimena (who does a brilliant job in transliterating Aruna & Lidahnya), take the independence to rework the characters and conflicts from the source materials to craft a different breed of the same story. While Gilang Priambodo is still indecisive, Ambar is now more of an artist (the O.G. is an “artis” – a celebrity). The most intriguing change occurs to the third person in Ambar and Gilang’s marriage, Yulinar (portrayed by Aisha).
The script doesn’t straightforwardly antagonize Yuli nor label her a home-wrecker. While often overshadowed by the other main characters, she often appears as the most fully manifested character. Making her multi-dimensional might put off viewers from rooting to her role in the narrative, but it’s a worth-taken risk. She’s an unwilling catalyst; and this film sympathizes her as much as it does to the couple. It’s as if capitalizes on working on the marriage first before putting the blame on other parties.
Some soap-operatic influences might pop out here and there (e.g., upper middle class family story veering towards melodrama). Yer, Noktah Merah Perkawinan shows that such a dramatic story might get beefed-up, too, with heavyweight performance from the leading trio. There’s so many intriguing layers, which keeps the narrative close to the ground, even when they don’t always touch the grass.