Opera Jawa

Mythological Hindu epic Ramayana's story of Rama and Sita is played out in modern Indonesian times by Setio (Martinus Miroto), a pottery maker fallen on hard times, and Siti (Miss Universe 2005 Artika Sari Devi, suggesting Gong Li), his beautiful wife. Both are former dancers, but Siti has given up the dance in faithfulness to her husband. When he leaves on business, though, she is tempted by the town's wealthy and powerful butcher, Ludiro (dancer extraordinaire Eko Supriyanto, 2001's "Madonna Live: Drowned World Tour") and their love triangle plays out against a backdrop of class riots in cowriter (with Aramantono)/director Garin Nugroho's "Opera Jawa."

Laura's Review: A

Extraordinary, eerie, exotic and erotic, "Opera Jawa" is one of those rarities - a new cinematic experience. This lush Indonesian musical is performed in the tembang style, all dialogue delivered in song like "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," with a score by Rahayu Supanggah comprised of traditional, discordant modern, and the blues accenting visuals sometimes seemingly sprung from the mind of Matthew Barney. It's a stunner. An insidious tone is immediately set in a dreamlike scene that sees Sita beset by multiple men beneath a sheet like a Chinese dragon, using conical woven rice scoops, a recurring prop, as masks. Siti is visited by her father, who delivers an invitation from Ludiro - dad's funds are lacking and the message implies a return to dance. Sure enough, the next scene finds Siti in her glory, dancing down a path before ultimately becoming imprisoned in a coconut shell spiral. Nugroho continues to paint his story with scenes that are alternately surreal and symbolic with more realistic reflections, such as sequences featuring the mother of both Setio and Ludiro contemplating their sons' love for Siti. Several scenes of the downtrodden marching to end 'exploitation and poverty' are perhaps too ploddingly obvious for a film this artful, but that is a mere quibble for a film that features such erotically charged dance as Setio performing in a mask as his bride or Ludiro dancing on the bar of a smoky club in a tux shirt and fedora, puffing away on a big spliff. The director uses primary color to distinguish his lover's triangle (Setio and Siti and blue and yellow while Ludiro is red to Siti's green) and foreshadows his heroine's demise with reflected light off water during her seduction. Head candles made of red wax drip onto white body dummies binding Ludiro's butchery business with violence against the masses and Siti is spun on Setio's potters wheel more erotically than anything in "Ghost." Indonesian shadow puppets are suggested by creepily elongated human shadow before making their own appearance in the foreground of warring gangs. The dance throughout the film is exquisite, whether by the three principals, particularly the mind-blowing Supriyanto, or several chorus. "Opera Jawa" is like nothing you have seen before - it's a beautiful, amazing film.

Robin's Review: DNS