Like & Share (Gina S. Noer, 2022)

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)

Legend of Gatotkaca (Satria Dewa: Gatotkaca, Hanung Bramantyo, 2022)

Indonesia has quietly been building its very own superhero cinematic universes over the past few years with Joko Anwar’s Gundala almost certainly the best known internationally. The Legend of Gatotkaca (Satria Dewa: Gatotkaca) is similarly intended to be the first in a new franchise, Satria Dewa, which draws influence from Indian mythology and is set in a dualistic world centuries after a battle between good and evil was ended by the gods to stop evil winning. 

Essentially an origin story for the titular hero Gatotkaca, the film follows down on his luck photographer Yuda (Rizky Nazar) who had to drop out of university because he is poor and also responsible for taking care of his mother who is suffering with memory loss and mental illness following an incident 15 years previously in which the pair were attacked by a mysterious figure in black who could shoot lasers from his fingers. Yuda assumes his memories from back then must have been a dream and that his mother’s mental distress has more to do with his father, Pande (Cecep Arif Rahman), abandoning the family. Nevertheless, he is soon dragged into intrigue when his best friend Erlangga (Jerome Kurnia) is murdered in the same way his mother was attacked during his university graduation ceremony. Determined to figure out the truth, Yuda and professor’s daughter Agni (Yasmin Napper) find their way to a secret organisation Erlangga had been a part of which aims to save the world from destructive forces carrying the Kaurava gene. 

In the film’s dualistic world view, there was once a civil war between those carrying the Pandava gene which encourages good, humanistic qualities and the Kaurava whose impulses are dark and destructive. But then as Professor Arya (Edward Akbar) who studies such things points out, Pandava can also be destructive while Kaurava are capable of using their “destructive” qualities for good. Even so, most of the bad things that have happened in the world particularly in the last 15 years since a mysterious meteorite fell to earth, can be attributed to the rising Kaurava influence from political corruption to illegal logging and even the COVID-19 pandemic. Someone is bumping off Pandava in an effort to release evil Kaurava general Aswatama (Fedi Nuril) from his imprisonment within a giant gemstone which explains the “mysterious” deaths of talented people like Olympic sportmsmen and a doctor who discovered a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Of course, Yuda turns out to be a chosen one and must pursue his destiny as the defender of the Pandava before assuming his rightful role as Gatotkaca. Only by confronting his immediate family history can he make himself whole and gain the strength to defeat Aswatama, saving the world from chaos. Meanwhile he has to contend with a romantic subplot in which Agni is aggressively courted by the odious and entitled Nathan (Axel Matthew Thomas) and his father who have at least strong Kaurava energy aside from being embodiments of oppressive elitism looking down on Yuda simply because he is poor. The underground cell Yuda eventually comes into contact with are also in their way a resistance to this same elitism, though unusually well equipped in their incredibly expensive-looking lair filled with the latest technology and looked after by a kindly Indian granny who is herself a Karauna but uses her powers, and at one point a good old-fashioned shot gun, for good.

It’s this duality to which the film eventually returns as Yuda declares they must be the light in the darkness and the darkness in the light as they secretly wage a war against an ancient evil apparently already well established in the contemporary social order. This being the first instalment in what seems to be cued up as a burgeoning franchise, there is undoubtedly a lot to take in from the talk of heirlooms and amulets to holy water and ancient weapons though the film does boast some excellent production design even if the centralisation of genetics as an indicator of good and evil is equally uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it’s a promising start to the cycle with a series of exciting action set pieces showcasing the art of silat along with some impressive CGI in the Star Wars-esque laser warfare even if it’s clear Gatotkaca’s toughest battles are yet to come.

Legend of Gatotkaca streams in the US via Hi-YAH! from 17th February and will be released on Digital, blu-ray, and DVD on March 21 courtesy of Well Go USA.

International trailer (English subtitles)