Prolific Indonesian helmer Garin Nugroho, a longtime festival fixture, follows his feast-for-the-senses celebration of traditional Javanese arts and rituals with a look at Balinese ones in “Under the Tree.” Like “Opera Jawa,” “Tree” mixes classic music and dance moves by renowned artists with a scripted narrative, but that formula isn’t as well integrated here and the visual pleasures are far fewer. More of the spirit-possessed, torch-bearing Calan Arang performers and less of the three intercut, metaphor-laden cover tales would have been welcome.
The three principal characters are labeled “seeds,” and their stories symbolize the cycle of life. Adopted as a child, twentysomething Maharani (Marcella Zalianty) comes to Bali in search of her roots but winds up suspected of baby trafficking. Singer Dewi (Ayu Laksmi), a 40-year-old mother-to-be, learns her fetus is damaged and debates whether to abort or to give birth. Meanwhile, spoiled teen Nian (Nadia Saphira) chases after Darma (Ikranagara), an artist who is practically living in the spirit world. The brown-toned color spectrum of the DV-shot film is disappointingly dull, and the restless swinging movements of the handheld camera sometimes near-nauseating.