Sat, 12 Mar 2005


Cinematic chemistry seen in RI film

Paul F. Agusta, Contributor/

Take one talented music video director with a simple yet unusual story idea, add in two of Indonesia's most innovative screenwriters, a no-holds-barred cinematographer, along with a thematically adventurous producer, and you get Banyu Biru, which was premiering in theaters nationwide on Thursday.

Teddy Soeriatmadja, Prima Rusdi, Rayya Makarim, Faozan Rizal and Shanty Harmayn put their heads and their considerable talents together to create a delightfully layered film in a style that blurs but does not sunder the lines dividing the genres of drama, comedy and fantasy.

"I knew what I wanted visually, I knew how I wanted the characters to say their lines, I knew how they wanted to move, I knew what the color of the film was going to be like. I always knew how I wanted to shoot it," Teddy told The Jakarta Post during a recent discussion of their newly finished film with Prima Rusdi. Rayya Makarim could not join the interview as she is currently in England continuing her studies.

"It all started with an incomplete script. It was called Dream with Fish. I started writing that in 1992 when I was still studying. Then one day after a film premier, Shanty (Harmayn) came up to me and said "Let's work on something together", so I gave her like five or six synopses and she called me two days later ... and said she wanted to do this one, she wanted to do Dream with Fish," Teddy explained.

Because the script was raw, Shanty and Teddy brought in Prima and Rayya to write the script and complete the film with the essence of the initial script.

"It took about six drafts. It was interesting -- The story was a little bit out there at first, and Shanty wanted to make it a little more -- it was a lot darker than the way it is now," Prima said.

"I just wanted to write about how someone who's dying and who decides to change -- the course of his life," Teddy said. "But it became -- with more colorful characters created by the writers -- as light as possible."

"Shanty, as the producer, felt that the film had to be -- a little more digestible for an Indonesian audience," Teddy added.

"We finished the last draft in 2003. It took us quite long, a year and a half. But it didn't feel that long because there were so many people involved and we had so much fun doing it," Prima commented.

The film, which was finally titled Banyu Biru eventually evolved into a surreal comedy, which weaves fantasy with reality and the pain of existence.

"The humor was, I would say," Prima paused, and Teddy inserted, "always there."

I think the best part about it, to me anyway, since I was fortunate enough to meet people like Prima, Rayya and Shanty,we share the same sense of humor -- I think that was one of the biggest plus points of the writing process," Teddy explained enthusiastically.

To bring this story about a young man's journey toward making peace with his father to life on screen, Teddy had a long wish list of seasoned actors, whom he was fortunate enough to bring on board. The film features stellar Indonesian performers of several generations, including Slamet Rahardjo, Rima Melati, Didi Petet, and Butet Kertaradjasa, as well as the younger stars Tora Sudiro, Dian Sastrowardoyo and Ladya Cheryl, and fashion designer Oscar Lawalatta, who steals the show in a stunning depiction of a long- lost friend.

"He always knew who he wanted to work with. For some characters, there were, like, no fallbacks. It had to be them or else. It was quite scary," Prima laughed.

To capture the visual style he envisioned for the film, Teddy enlisted the help of maverick cinematographer and internationally renowned experimental filmmaker Faozan Rizal, who is better known as Pao.

"Pao is one of those crazy cinematographers who would dare to do many weird things. I needed someone like that for this film. He was perfect for it," Teddy enthused.

"We needed that naughtiness in a cameraman, and he delivered the goods," Teddy said.

Banyu Biru, screened in major cities, is subtitled in English at Plaza Senayan, Jakarta, to allow access by a larger, wider audience. It is a new kind of Indonesian film, born of serious and dedicated collaboration among massively gifted film professionals.

Although it bends genres and almost defies description, Banyu Biru should be readily accessible to a mass audience, as well as satisfying to even the most discriminating of cinema connoisseurs, simply because it works on so many levels.

It is a deftly layered piece of filmmaking that enriches with the first viewing, but entices the viewer to return over and over to savor the flavors they may have missed.

"I hope that people will like to see this again and again because it gives you a different impact every time," Prima commented.

"It better be watched repeatedly," Teddy concluded, laughing.