Two young women seeking escape from a repressive social culture find themselves betrayed by the hypocrisies and lawlessness of the online society in an infinitely empathetic drama from Two Blue Stripes’ Gina S. Noer, Like & Share. Like many young people, they see internet stardom as a path towards freedom and independence, but are too naive to understand its underlying darkness even when presented with evidence of its misuse in the alarming popularity of an illicit sex tape and its violent sequel.
Lisa (Aurora Ribero) in particular is strangely fascinated by the video despite realising that in the sequel that followed the woman is crying and appears to have suffered sexualised violence at the hands of the man whose face is never seen. “No face, no case” the girls are fond of saying, naively thinking that they can safeguard themselves from potential harm simply by shooting from the neck down. When nude photos are leaked of another girl at school, she’s able to claim that it’s not her and encourage people to block the sender but still it seems like no one really believes her. Lisa and Sarah (Arawinda Kirana) seem to feel a sense of invincibility, that they’re in control of their online personas and the channel they’ve set up featuring beautifully produced ASMR videos accompanied by a deliberately “sexy” voice over. Though Lisa is unsure, Sarah brushes off some of the more unpleasant comments they get as simply par for the course while reminding her that they’ll get more likes and shares appealing to the sort of people that make them.
But the girls are largely ill-equipped to understand the world they’re entering, not least because of the repressive atmosphere in which they’ve been raised. Lisa soon becomes fixated on the sex tape, addicted to pornography and masturbation which temporarily replaces ASMR as her preferred method of stress relief. The problem is compounded by the fact that her mother has married an older, quite conservative religious man and converted to Islam. She is very keen that Lisa not upset her new stepfather, who has agreed to pay for her education, mainly because it’s her own “second chance” to atone for the failure of her first marriage and prove herself a good wife and mother. “What sort of good woman are you that has no empathy for other women?” Lisa later asks her but gets little reply. Her mother advises her to read the Quran if she wants to calm herself down, though Lisa counters that she can’t read Arabic anyway.
As Lisa explains, she was merely curious and it’s not as if she could have asked her mother for knowledge or advice. Her addiction partly stems from the illicit nature of the activity, had she had a healthier outlet and better access to sex education she would probably not have reacted to the video in such an extreme way. Sarah later experiences something similar after meeting a boy, Devan (Jerome Kurnia), at a local recreation ground and agreeing to date him without necessarily seeing any red flags in the fact he’s 27 with a full-time job and wants to date a 17-year-old high school girl. Every time she expresses reluctance to take their relationship to the next level he calls her “childish”, later assaulting her and filming it to use as blackmail and potential online clout. “It’s always the girl’s life that’s ruined, never the man’s” he later sneers, certain that he’ll get away with it because it’s his word against hers and as her lawyer cautions her after Devan leaks the video going to the police is risky because there’s a chance she could end up being charged with obscenity under the country’s laws surrounding pornography.
Misogyny is already deeply ingrained in the system. Ironically enough, the girls’ teacher tells them the school can’t afford to fund group activities so they need to go swimming on their own and film it for him so he can mark them. The videos are shown to the entire class with even the teacher appearing to salivate over the footage of teenage girls in wet swimsuits while their male classmates make inappropriate comments that go largely unchallenged. Sarah is unwilling to accept that what happened to her was rape, firstly brushing it off as a potential fetish for rough sex or suggesting that Devan did not hear her say no despite having previously told her about a too spicy dish at a restaurant that if she doesn’t like or want something she should say so. Lisa meanwhile is forced to accept her partial complicity after crossing paths with the woman from the sex tape and becoming somewhat fixated on her before reflecting on the harm that she had done in having watched it in the first place. It’s she that later helps Lisa come to an understanding of the best way to support her friend through her ordeal which may be simply to be there and to listen.
Despite the judging eyes of the world around them, the two women have their friendship and the refreshingly progressive support of Sarah’s older brother who stands by his sister rather than blaming her. Even so, it’s other women who often fail her from the conservative judgement of Lisa’s mother to a lawyer at a court hearing who says that Sarah made her choice when she decided to enter the hotel room with Devan and has no right to call her “regret” “rape”. Yet Lisa and Sarah are finally able to repair their friendship and stand up in solidarity against a patriarchal social culture, refusing to let Devan off the hook while reassuming control of their channel by reading out some of the inappropriate messages they’ve been sent by men online. “Thank you for being brave” a message on the website of a woman’s legal organisation reads, once more reinforcing the power of female solidarity against systematised misogyny.
Like & Share screens March 14/18 as part of this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival.
Original trailer (English subtitles)