by: Asmayani Kusrini
Vaguely, I remember that name: Wiji Thukul. It was in my first or second year in the university in Makassar when some of student’s organisations were actively gathered and staging spontaneous discourse alternated with poetry readings. There, Wiji Thukul was often mentioned along with his poems. Unfortunately, I couldn’t listened properly to their discourse nor being there for poetry readings.
By that time, there were rumours about police and military operation targeted the students. The street was restless with non-stop demonstrations by students – or anonymous?--, I was not sure. Nobody could tell. “a latent danger of communism” or “Chinese” was the word of that day. And the smell of burning tires was in the air for days. I remember clearly that so-called student demonstrators were randomly hijacking a car with red plate –official car for civil servant officer— to be burned in the middle of a busy street as a part of their protest.
My parents were afraid and always told me to stay away from students gathering. “Avoid the crowds,” my mother said every time I went out. Their fear was not only because they were very obedient civil servants and have a ‘red-plate car’, but also because we are half Chinese. Though my father is a Buginese and devoted Muslim, my mother side has more complex origin, and being half Chinese and Protestant was our most worrying fact by that time.
I am lucky because my Chinese-ness is not that obvious. But my sister and my brother are. We were afraid but we don’t know exactly what we were afraid of. Being a civil-servant family with a red-plate car? Being half Chinese? Being a university student? Or being a random target of random demonstrator?
A film Solo Solitude by Yosep Anggi Noen reminds me of that fear. Invisible fear. A fear of being in the wrong place and in the wrong crowd. It is a film that intensely shows its audience the anxiety of being watched without able to watch back. Most of the scenes are composed to intimidate its characters even in their most private life. From the electricity power that on and off as it pleases, a rude neighbour who asked for toothbrush and tooth paste, to the fact that they can’t drink water –the most basic human needs– quietly without having to deal with hordes of ants.
Even the most banal conversation on everyday activity such as cutting hair in barbershop could become a terrifying experience. Simple question such as “where are you coming from?” or “what are you doing here” sounds like a threat. Such intimidation by an oppressor regime has done to its citizen.
I believe, Solo Solitude is so engaging (for Indonesian as well as for International audience, or at least for me) because it is depicting a collective disquiet of (Indonesian) society who has to face an invisible power that engaged them in constant anxiety. Wiji Thukul in this film is a representation of Indonesians who were afraid. Although consisted of largely quiet, calm and slow imagery, it is channelled the general insecurity of a nation in that specific period.
The psychological oppression of invisible power is shown in this movie with excellent efficacity by showing stream of observation of its character’s body language, movement and expression. The filmmaker and its DOP is repeatedly showing the back of the head of its character, the kind of scene that makes you uncomfortable as if someone –or ghost– was following him. And when they show his face, his eyes are never rest, observing his surroundings as if something will happen and his ears are always aware of the noise and conversations from a distance.
There is a sense of curiosity and empathy from the filmmaker to stare at its character’s solitude without concessions to the spectacularization of images. Instead, it is filled with internal monologue through poems. There lies the difference between Wiji Thukul and Indonesians in general. I will not explain long and large about Wiji Thukul. I will let you google.
The poems and the poet are the added values –if not the key element– of this movie. As I said, Solo Solitude is a film about the fear of Indonesian people in a certain period but it is also a film about Wiji Thukul. The film itself doesn’t want to show what heroism did to a hero. Yosep Anggi restrained himself by choosing Wiji Thukul’s journey to uncertainty. No heroic act. He wrote poems.
The filmmaker wants to show that the man acted and reacted to the oppression but also afraid of the consequence to him and to his family. He is not the kind of hero that you expect him to be. And why should he? He is just a poet who writes. What he writes about is mostly about his feelings of injustice and of living under dictatorial regime.
Solo Solitude is the continuation of Wiji Thukul’s legacy of that feelings as well as a reminder what it feels like if we have to live under dictatorship again. That fear, is still relevant and will always be relevant issue to the contemporary society nowadays.***