Explosion of stimulation for the senses

October 2007 -

FILM: Opera Jawa - Garin Nugroho
The sub-title of Opera Jawa is A Cinema Requiem. The Viennese project New Crowned Hope asked seven film makers to make a film on the occasion of Mozart's 250th birthday. They were asked to use themes like truth and reconciliation, magic and death ceremonies to reflect the contemporary era.


Still from Opera Jawa

Director Garin Nugroho talks about his film: "Opera Jawa is a requiem for various kinds of grief – caused by conflict, caused by disasters and grief for all the bloodshed throughout the world."

He based his film on the ancient Asian Ramayana epos. Siti lives a life of love with her husband Setio, a poor potter. But Ludiro wants her for his own. Siti is confused and Setio is afraid he will lose her. So afraid that he ultimately kills her and cuts out her heart so that it will finally be his.

Nugroho films beautifully: the film is bathed in a copper glow of light on the ground, on Setio's pottery and on people's skins. He plays with colours, especially bright red and clear green in clothes, fabrics and robes and in nature. He uses close-ups to show the details of his actors' expressive faces. He is well-skilled in utilising the possibilities a camera offers. But he calls his film an opera, and that is not just because all of the text is sung.

Opera Jawa is a lot like a play on screen. Nugroho tells the story in clearly partitioned scenes, in terms of both time and place. A few of the characters play a scene in a decor. No people are added, none leave. We do not see moves, not even in time like flashbacks or a look into the future. Each new scene is announced with a title.

Opera Jawa is first and foremost a fascinating performance that showcases many types of art. Beautiful imagery, music that is complicated to Western ears, intriguing dance scenes in which traditional and modern dance melt together, and the often wonder-like visual art that Nugroho uses as symbolic imagery. It is certainly not easy, but if you are able to surrender without wanting to understand all, Opera Jawa is an explosion of stimulation for the senses.

Opera Jawa is being shown in several cinemas in The Netherlands.