By Ammar Keshodia
There are a few things you need to know about Siti before we even begin to talk about it.
Lead actress Sekar Sari was not the first choice for the lead role. She worked as a newscaster at her local TV station in Indonesia, acting in shorts on the side. This is her feature film debut.
On its own this might be just a list of facts, but it only takes the first 3 minutes of Siti to see why her terse resume is so impressive.
Siti follows a young mother trying to make ends meet between sending her son to elementary school and taking care of her paralysed, bed-ridden husband. With its enduring long takes and high contrast black & white cinematography, Director Eddie Cahyono and DP Ujel Bausad frame Sari’s breakout performance in a stirring struggle for peace. Siti in the day is completely different to the Siti we see at night and its accentuated by the lighting and the camera work.
The camera lingers, constantly following our main character through extended sequences of turbulence – Cahyono does this to pull us in ever so gently – we’re right there with Siti, sometimes it’s like we’re sitting next to her, other times we’re following. The cinematic style here’s been compared to neo-realism but it really harkens back to the Latin American greats – films like Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mamá También, and Iñárritu’s Amores Perros – with a whole lot more anxiety mixed in.
During the day, everything is cast in natural light, Siti has her happy moments, and her frustrating ones too, as one might expect. But at night there’s something more foreboding that brews under the surface. Not only do we see her let loose, but we begin to see the complexity of guilt and discord that lie underneath. In these moments, Siti seems to be painted in darkness, her face almost straining away from the light.
The ocean plays a big role in Siti’s psyche throughout the film, it’s attached to a past joy, a happiness that doesn’t seem to be part of her life anymore. There is a moment late in the film where she walks through the thick black of night, broken and catatonic, trying to find her way to the beach. And as she steps through the sand and closer to the water, the sun unexpectedly seems to rise, casting light on her once again. It’s a preternatural experience, but this is emotion and idea expressed through imagery – this is cinema at its best. Siti is going back to her place of solace, where there is always light to greet her.
Purchase your tickets to the Toronto premiere of Siti at the 19th Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival HERE.