Siti (Artika Sari Devi) and Setio (Martinus Miroto) are a married couple living in a small village. They were once dancers in plays depicting the Ramayana, but have since retired from the stage to sell earthenware pottery.
Siti used to play the part of Sita, the wife of Prince Rama, whom Setio portrayed. In an episode from the Ramayana, Siti becomes the object of desire of evil King Ravana and is abducted by him.
The events of the Ramayana are paralleled in the characters’ real lives when Ludiro (Eko Supriyanto), a butcher who rules over all the village’s business affairs, tries to seduce Siti.
One imagines most of the corps of Java’s singers, dancers, actors, mime artists, and designers worked on this delightful, sexually charged and revolutionary ‘opera’, played out in the colourful fields and bustling towns of Java. Co- produced by director Garin Nugroho , it has its origins as one of the sometimes inspired, sometimes wacky, projects engendered by Peter Sellars’ New Crowned Hope festival which aimed to combine ‘art and social action’. Thus, Nugroho’s semi-naturalist, though all-sung, modernist spin on the ancient (Sanskrit) tale of the divided heart of Rama’s wife Sinta, reverses and gently undermines traditional moralities and points of view, allowing him to qualify his extravagant celebration of Indonesian culture while simultaneously acknowledging some of the discomforts of political, social and sexual inequality.
If all the spectacular artifice seems a little overwhelming at times, Nugroho’s film, nevertheless, retains a simple emotional core sustained by sensitive and expressive performances from, among others, Artika Sari Devi as the beautiful, ex-dancer Siti and Martinus Miroto as her (wrongfully?) jealous potter husband, a sweet and involving, Gamelin-based score by Rahayu Supanggah, and some exquisite cinematography by Teoh Gay Hin. Even if you’re an east Asian film expert, you won’t have seen anything like this before nor be quite prepared for some of its erotic, even camp excesses. Some of the cut-away dance set-pieces seemed a little de trops for this writer, as did some of the kaleidoscopically changing design, but approached as a nationalist re-envisioning of the film musical, in the manner of ‘Black Orpheus’, it’s a treat, vital, fresh, and surprisingly emotionally involving.
1. The Iron Bed – Theatre performance in Zürich, 2008, dir. Garin Nugroho (in Indonesian, no subs)
2. Art and Reality – Interview with Garin Nugroho (in English, no subs)
3. On The Waterfront (with English hard subs)
4. New Crowned Hope (with English hard subs)
Subtitles:English, French, German (muxed)