Symbolic portrayals on the silver screen

January 2005 -

This year, the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2005 is featuring films from South-East Asia, in its subprogramme 'S.E.A. Eyes'. One of these is The Rainmaker, the debut film by the Indonesian filmmaker Ravi Bharwani.


Still from Rainmaker

In the film, meteorologist Johan tries modern methods of inducing rainfall in a region suffering a persistent drought. A forbidden love arises between himself and singer Asih from the local village: forbidden, because Asih is almost supernatural: her extraordinarily beautiful appearance and crystal-clear voice make her a collective symbol. She cannot ever be her own woman, any more than she can ever belong to just one man. Their love destroys the natural order of things and summons a disaster that engulfs both the village and Asih herself.

The Rainmaker is filmed in a very stylised, artificial way. Bharwani uses little speech and the film scarcely has a narrative structure. There are no scenes, just images, filmed in long, motionless shots in which the little action that takes place is portrayed in long, drawn-out scenes. The lighting, the colours, the silences and the many on-screen references turn Bharwani’s images into symbolic portrayals on the screen. The repetition of these images emphasises the importance of rituals in Indonesian culture.

In this way, several times we see a woman washing a man’s feet, two children sprinkling their dolls with sand, or an old man next to a well. Those unfamiliar with Indonesian culture will find this film even more mysterious. It’s not that it’s incomprehensible, it’s just that Bharwani wants to convey his ideas in a different way to that used by a narrative film. If he succeeds, then The Rainmaker will be a film that merits more than one viewing, especially as it is the images themselves that are so important.

The Rainmaker was realized with the help of the Hubert Bals Fund.