Fabulous is the only word to describe “Madame X,” a candy-colored, fast-paced tale of a pre-op transsexual superhero from Indonesia who fights intolerance. Assured first feature from filmmaker Lucky Kuswandi is just as much fun as it sounds, with producer Nia Dinata (“Arisan!”) and the rookie helmer finding exactly the right tone for the material, packaging the irreverent, often riotous antics and a clear pro-diversity message in a superhero-movie format delivered with a big, curly-lashed wink. Pic did minimal biz locally, but fests will warmly embrace it, with niche ancillary pickups a given.
After a prologue and an animated title sequence clearly inspired by 007, pic proper kicks off on the birthday of epicene hairdresser Adam (mono-monikered entertainer Amink), who’s best friends with his zaftig colleague, Aline (filmmaker Joko Anwar). Things go haywire when the gay disco where Adam and Aline are celebrating is raided by the black-clad members of Bogem, a league of moral order run by a man who looks suspiciously like the (fictitious) National Morality Front politician Mr. Storm (singer Marcell, also going by one name).
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Pic’s wicked sense of humor comes into full view when all the “deviants” are packed onto a truck by the Bogem men, and Aline is subsequently thrown off and killed by traffic. Rather than being outraged or sad, the remaining party people onboard start singing “All the Single Trannies” while imitating Beyonce’s signature dance moves. Before long, Aline starts to appear to Adam as an angel from heaven — if heaven were designed by Pierre et Gilles on a bad day.
Bulk of the film is set at a retreat for Lenggok dancers run by elderly couple Tante Yantje (Ria Irawan) and Oom Rudi (Robby Tumewu). In one of the pic’s subtler politically incorrect jokes, unfortunately lost in translation, the duo converse in Dutch, the language of Indonesia’s former colonial oppressors. As the Bogem men prepare an attack on the retreat and political tensions rise, Adam is turned into Madame X with the help of combat-style dance lessons, a dominatrix-like costume and the fabulous gadgets of a mute science geek (Vincent Rompies), who functions as James Bond’s Q with a queer twist.
Final battle, between Madame X and the three burqa-wearing wives (Shanty, Titi DJ, Sarah Sechan) of Mr. Storm is a clever sendup of the genre, using intentionally gaudy CGI and some hilarious one-liners to show how Madame X “punishes with the force of rainbows” and diversity triumphs over bigotry.
Though not directly credited for the screenplay, which was inspired by a character created by Amink and written by the helmer with Agasyah Karim and Khalid Kashogi, the fingerprints of producer and occasional helmer Dinata (“A Courtesan,” “Love for Share”) are all over this production, from its appropriation of popular mainstream formats in service of a strong pro-minority, pro-LGBT message to its use of humor to tackle wider sociopolitical issues and its careful attention to local details, such as the slang used in the dialogue or the clever sendup of the dual lives of contempo Indonesian celebrities.
Though the film might have a minority p.o.v. in the largely conservative and Muslim country, its solid production values and large cast clearly show it’s not a small underground production. Tech package has a bright and saturated pop-vid aesthetic, with intentionally tacky graphics and, especially in the final scenes, a lot of greenscreen work. Costume design is also tops, especially the couture burqas; ditto sunglasses and other garments of Mr. Storm’s three wives.