Sat, 10 Jul 2004

Film 'Almayer's Folly' set in RI

Rita A.Widiadana, Kuta

Following their triumphs at recent Cannes Film Festivals in France, Asian filmmakers are beginning to establish a strong foothold in the international film world.

And the successes of their counterparts from Japan, China, Hong Kong, Iran and India have encouraged Southeast Asian filmmakers to pursue their craft on an international stage.

In this spirit, noted Malaysian director U-Wei bin Haji Saari, in collaboration with 2004 Golden Globe award winner Le Brocquy- Fraser Production (Osama), is embarking on a major feature film project, Almayer's Folly, which will bring together talent from Hollywood, Malaysia and Indonesia. Folly is an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's debut novel of the same title.

The film will star award-winning U.S. actor Harvey Keitel (The Red Dragon, Pulp Fiction and The Piano), talented Indonesian actors Christine Hakim and El Manik, and Malaysian actors Eman Manan and Khalled Saleh.

The US$5 million film will also involve world-class film talent, including director of photography Alain Choquart from France and British production designer Desmond Crowe (Band of Brothers)

Almayer's Folly explores themes similar to those found in Heart of Darkness, Conrad's later masterpiece. Heart of Darkness was adapted into the Oscar-winning Vietnam war epic Apocalypse Now, starring the late Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen.

Folly is set in the Malay world of the 1830s in Borneo (now Kalimantan) and is a tale of personal tragedy set against a backdrop of stale and defective colonialism.

The adapted film is drawn from the U-Wei's own experiences in his own land, entwined with the experience of colonialism.

U-Wei is Malaysia's leading film director and has taken up the challenge of adapting the novel's period setting and working with a multiethnic cast that explore the desires, misconceptions and intrigues that were so much a part of the cultural melting pot of colonialism.

Le Brocquy-Fraser Production secured the rights from Oxford publishing to adapt Conrad's novel, and developed the script with U-Wei .

"I am not focusing on colonialism but on the struggle of values, human relationships, cultural and social conflicts from an Eastern point of view," U-Wei told The Jakarta Post in Kuta on Tuesday.

Movie-goers are used to seeing stories through the eyes of Western directors, he said. "That is good, but this time I want to show it from a different perspective, from the state of mind of Eastern people. How they see and look at the issues."

The story revolves around the life of Malay society in Borneo in the late 19th century; a mix of indigenous Malays, tribal Dayaks, Europeans, Arabs, Indians and Chinese living and working together.

Although the book starts out as though it is from the perspective of a European protagonist, the narrative is dynamic.

The plot centers on the life of Dutch businessman Almayer (to be played by Harvey Keitel), who marries Mem (Christine Hakim), a local woman. They have a daughter Nina, who is sent to Singapore to receive a Western education.

When she returns as a beautiful woman 10 years later, she finds the family home and business severely neglected, as Almayer has been consumed by his dream of finding gold in the mountains, and her parents are no longer communicating.

Problems begin to surface when Nina falls for a handsome Malay prince and freedom fighter, Dain Maroola. Their secret love affair drive Almayer mad; he cannot tolerate his daughter having an affair with a Malay man, whom he regards as inferior to Westerners.

One day, Almayer finds that his daughter has eloped with Dain. Almayer chases after the couple, losing everything in the pursuit. He returns to his house and burns it down, and is left with nothing but his shattered dreams. The remains of the house become known locally as Almayer's Folly.

At the beginning of the story Almayer appears to be at the center of society. By the end, he is very much at the peripheral and alienated. The real cultural, political and economic life of the community is located elsewhere and involves other people besides himself.

"The choice of an authentic setting (Kalimantan) is important to make the film real and alive. With the right setting and an excellent cast, I have already finished 30 percent of the total work," commented U-Wei, a Pahang native who first gained international notice in 1995 with Un Certain Regard award at Cannes.

Thanks to the Bali Film Commission, the Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Garuda Indonesia and Kartika Discovery Hotel, U-Wei chose Kalimantan as the main shooting locations.

"I was offered Fiji but I preferred Kalimantan as it is the real setting of the story. It would be superficial if the film was set in another place," he said.

Producer Julia Fraser expects the film to gain critical acclaim, if not commercial success. "International film society is looking for works by fresh talents from around the world. Everybody in the group is so excited about this project."

Since the key role of Almayer's 20-year-old daughter has still not been cast, the producer and director are now looking to hold casting calls in Bali and Jakarta within this month.

"I am sure Indonesia has a lot of talent. The girl must be creative, talented and natural, and should be under 20," the director said.

If an Indonesian actress can land the role of Nina, the path to international success will open in front of her, said Deborah Gabinetti of the Bali Film Commission.