Like many countries’ early features addressing AIDS issues, Indonesian “Looking for Madonna” is well-intentioned but dramatically coarse stuff that works better as cautionary propaganda than art. Curiosity value will get debuting helmer John de Rantau’s pic into some fests, but its appeal is primarily regional.
Co-written by de Rantau and pic’s producer, vet social-issue filmmaker Garin Nugroho, the somewhat disjointed narrative opens with Papuan teens whose hard-partying lifestyle leads to disaster when both Joseph (Samuel Tunya) and his girlfriend test HIV-positive. Latter unwisely tells her father, who then burns her alive in a grass hut — not an isolated circumstance, apparently. Despairing Joseph returns to his native village, where a nearby prostitute camp’s star attraction (Clara Sinta, sole pro thesp here) begins refusing customers because she’ afraid of infecting them with HIV, it turns out. Prayer, medical treatment and a grandfather’s inspirational speeches arrange a happy ending of sorts. Pic has upbeat, progressive-minded content despite melodramatics. But story gaps are exacerbated by terrible English subtitling (“I am very confuse either” is the least of it) that also renders incomprehensible the dirty jokes of rotund, rakish narrator Minus (Minus C. Caroba).