A contained, unvarnished study of the dehumanizing horrors of political repression, Garin Nugroho’s “A Poet” intersperses performance-piece monologues by Indonesian poet Ibrahim Kadir with re-enacted episodes from Kadir’s 22-day incarceration during the mass murders and Communist witch-hunts of the 1960s. That Kadir plays himself in these flashbacks (which means he appears in nearly every frame of the film) lends pic a highly personalized, translucent meditativeness. But theatricality of the construction and familiarity of the subject matter — “Quills” and “Before Night Falls” last year alone — will limit this to a healthy life on the festival circuit.
Kadir has an intrinsically emotive presence, and while it is frequently harrowing to watch him revisit the physical and psychological abuses of 30-odd years ago, his presence in the film also seems a manipulation of viewer sentiments. Pic is strongest when Nugroho encapsulates his (and Kadir’s) humanist doctrine into tautly lyrical tableaux: The shudder of fear issued forth by the calling of a single prisoner’s name, next on the decapitation roster; the compost of men’s and women’s bodies, piled atop one another in cramped, narrow cells. Grainy digivid lensing is apt.