Leaf on a Pillow tells the story of Asih (played by renowned actress Christine Hakim), a struggling street vendor who shelters three young homeless boys in a deserted corner of a market. The boys try to navigate their way through a sleazy world where adults prey on the helpless. They survive day by day and yearn for the motherly comforts that Asih tries to provide. Leaf on a Pillow delicately balances this palpable vulnerability with the harsh reality of poverty and oppression.
Showing an affinity with Italian neo-realism, Leaf on a Pillow features street-children depicting a story of their own lives in Java’s second largest city. Nugroho’s strong background in documentary is evident in the way he draws natural performances out of non-professional actors and utilizes richly textured street locations to gently unfold stories from discarded children.
This film was made during the Suharto regime, when strict censorship was imposed on films. It was completed in May 1998 in the midst of the Indonesian crisis and immediately after President Suharto was forced into resignation. Leaf on a Pillow premiered at the prestigious Un Certain Regard programme in the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. A film that might otherwise have never been distributed, Leaf on a Pillow not only toured the international film-festival circuit, but became a box-office success in Indonesia.