In the picturesque Wakatobi Archipelago of Indonesia live the Bajo, a formerly nomadic people who live in houses built on coral reefs and whose livelihood revolves around the ocean. The daughter of famed Indonesian director Garin Nogroho, Kamila Andini’s first feature film The Mirror Never Lies gives us a look into Bajo culture and community through this beautiful coming-of-age story about a girl whose world is opened up by tragedy.
Moody and insolent, Pakis (played by newcomer Gita Novalista) is a 12-year-old girl shaken by her father’s disappearance at sea. Pakis desperately hopes for her father’s return, wearing a mirror she is told will reveal him to her. Resigned to her husband’s fate, Pakis’ face- ask wearing mother Tayung (Atiqah Hasiholan) must balance her mourning with keeping the family afloat as a newly-single parent. Pakis and Tayung’s relationship is disrupted by the arrival of an urbanite scientist (Reza Rahadian), who boards with the family while researching the local marine ecology. Pakis’ only solace lies in her friendship with rascal neighbour boy Lumo (the adorable Eko) who has big dreams of escaping their small village for the big city.
World-renowned for its breathtaking scenery by tourists and sea divers, the Wakatobi Archipelago is featured with stunning cinematography. However, Andini reaches beneath the beauty of the region, crafting a nuanced tale about the tenuous relationships between sea and community, mother and daughter, and life and death. Andini’s use of young non-actors Novalista and Eko with professional actors Hasiholan and Rahadian is seamless and natural. Andini’s debut feature tells a universal story for all ages about finding one’s way when most lost.