Review: ‘A Poet’

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.

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.

A Poet

Indonesia

Production

An S.E.T. Audiovisual Workshop production. Produced, directed by Garin Nugroho. Screenplay, Nana Mulyana, Nugroho.

Crew

Camera (color, digital video-to-35mm), Winaldha E. Melalatoa; editor, Rahmat Tepe; music, Tony Prabowo; production designer, Tonny Trimarsanto. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Hubert Bals Fund), Jan. 30, 2001. Original title: Puisi tak terkuburkan. Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Ibrahim Kadir, Berliana Fibrianti, Jose Rizal Manua, Ella Gayo, Fuat Idris.
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