×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Berlin Film Review: ‘Aruna & Her Palate’

Fabulous food and engaging characters surmount tricky tonal issues in an entertaining crowd-pleaser by Indonesian filmmaker Edwin

Director:
Edwin
With:
Dian Sastrowardoyo, Oka Antara, Hannah Al Rashid, Nicholas Saputra

1 hour 47 minutes

When mouthwatering Indonesian cuisine and romance are on the table, “Aruna & Her Palate” is a bouncy crowd-pleaser. Less tasty is the backdrop of a suspected bird flu outbreak that brings a food-loving epidemiologist into contact with her secret crush. Adapted from Laksmi Pamuntjak’s 2014 novel “The Bird Woman’s Palate,” “Aruna” manages to overcome its sometimes awkward ingredients thanks to crisp direction and appealing performances from a top-notch cast. Though unlikely to travel as widely as previous features by talented mononymous filmmaker Edwin (“Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly,” “Postcards From the Zoo”) “Aruna,” should benefit from exposure in the Culinary Cinema section at Berlin. The film received widespread critical support and performed OK at the box office following a late September local release.

In breezy opening segments, Aruna (Dian Sastrowardoyo, “Whispering Sands”) establishes a warm and winning relationship with viewers by speaking directly to the camera. The device works splendidly, and it’s only a disappointment when it tapers off as the story proceeds. We discover she’s a happily single, thirtysomething employee at a Jakarta company supplying public health services. More important, she’s also a dedicated foodie who’s planning a culinary road trip with besties Bono (Nicholas Saputra, “Postcards From the Zoo”), a cheery, top-class chef; and Nadezhda (Hannah Al Rashid, “The Night Comes for Us”), a live-wire food writer with a string of unfulfilling affairs behind her.

The trio’s plan appears doomed when Aruna is dispatched by company boss Burhan (Deddy Mahendra Desta) to investigate reports of bird flu in cities throughout the Indonesian archipelago. Undeterred, she decides to combine work with the pleasure of discovering exciting regional dishes and street food with her pals. Turning the trio into a quartet and adding a nice dash of romantic spice to the tale is Farish (Oka Antana, “Killers”), Aruna’s former work colleague and long-time crush who’s been sent by a rival health services organization to monitor the same case.

Although the company is good and just about every dish they sample looks positively delectable, “Aruna” struggles at first to balance its fun-and-food aspects with the downbeat reality of a looming heath crisis. Daytime sequences involving sick patients and people in biohazard suits are well executed and shed light on social, religious and cultural issues but don’t sit comfortably with amusing romantic maneuvers and meaningful heart-to-heart conversations between the main players once the working day is done. The reveal about the reasons for the impending crisis take things down a notch and leave the coast clear for audiences to enjoy an entertaining ride toward inevitable yet highly satisfying romantic conclusions.

Titien Wattimena’s screenplay and Edwin’s direction deliver on their mission to please without tipping into sentimentality or cheesiness. There’s real bite in the girl-talk confessionals between Aruna and Nadezhda. Sastrowardoyo is terrific as the woman whose search for new taste sensations runs neatly in parallel with her discovery of true romance. Al Rashid plays it vampy but never hammy as the man-eater. Saputra and Antana hit just the right note as nice guys who deserve to find happiness — if only they could get the right words out.

Attractively shot on interesting Indonesian locations in Surabaya, Singkawang, Pontianak and Pamekasan by cinematographer Amalia T.S., “Aruna” zips along to a jazz-flavored score by Ken Jenie and Mar Galo that’s used a little more than necessary but is always easy on the ear. All other technical work is polished.

Berlin Film Review: ‘Aruna & Her Palate’

Reviewed online in Adelaide, Australia, Feb. 20, 2019. (In Berlin Film Festival — Culinary Cinema; also in Macao Film Festival.) Running time: 107 MIN. (Original title: “Aruna & Lidahnya”)

Production: (Indonesia) A Palari Films production in association with Go Studio, CJ Entertainment, Phoenix Films, Ideosource Entertainment. (International sales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul.) Producers: Meiske Taurisia, Muhammad Zaidy. Executive producers: April Priscilla, Christopher Smith, Michy Gustavia, Jeong Tae-sung, Jerry Kyoungboum Ko, Nathaniel P. Gunawan, Natalie Balakrishnan, Andi Boediman, Pandu Birantoro, Rahadian Agung. Co-producers: Kwonsik Kim, Yeonu Choi, Justin Kim.

Crew: Director: Edwin. Screenplay: Titien Wattimena, based on the novel “The Bird Woman’s Palate” by Laksmi Pamuntjak. Camera (color, HD): Amalia T.S. Editor: W. Ichwandiar Dono.

With: Dian Sastrowardoyo, Oka Antara, Hannah Al Rashid, Nicholas Saputra, Deddy Mahendra Desta, Ayu Azhari, Kunhadi Wasito, Maryam Supraba, Adhy Suhindra Rachman

Music By: Ken Jenie, Mar Galo

More Film

  • Aladdin

    'Aladdin' Dominates International Box Office With $121 Million

    Disney’s “Aladdin” is showing plenty of worldwide drawing power with $121 million overseas for the weekend, opening in first place in nearly all international markets. The reboot of the 1992 animated classic has received strong family attendance with a significant gain on Saturday and Sunday. China leads the way with an estimated $18.7 million for [...]

  • Aladdin

    Box Office: 'Aladdin' Taking Flight With $105 Million in North America

    Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” is flying high with an estimated $105 million in North America during the four-day Memorial Day holiday weekend. It’s the sixth-highest Memorial Day weekend total ever, topping the 2011 mark of $103.4 million for “The Hangover Part II.” The top total came in 2007, when “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” [...]

  • Agustina San Martin Talks Cannes Special

    Agustina San Martin Talks Cannes Special Mention Winner ‘Monster God’

    CANNES – An exploration of the ramifications of God, “Monster God,” from Argentina’s Agustina San Martín, took a Special Mention – an effective runner’s up prize – on Saturday night at this year’s Cannes Film Festival short film competition. It’s not difficult to see why, especially when jury president Claire Denis own films’ power resists [...]

  • Atlantics

    Netflix Snags Worldwide Rights to Cannes Winners 'Atlantics,' 'I Lost My Body'

    Mati Diop’s feature directorial debut “Atlantics” and Jérémy Clapin’s animated favorite “I Lost My Body” have both been acquired by Netflix following wins at Cannes Film Festival. “Atlantics” was awarded the grand prix while “I Lost My Body” was voted the best film at the independent International Critics Week. The deals are for worldwide rights [...]

  • Stan Lee, left, and Keya Morgan

    Stan Lee's Former Business Manager Arrested on Elder Abuse Charges

    Stan Lee’s former business manager, Keya Morgan, was arrested in Arizona Saturday morning on an outstanding warrant from the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD’s Mike Lopez confirmed that the arrest warrant was for the following charges: one count of false imprisonment – elder adult; three counts of grand theft from elder or dependent adult, [...]

  • Moby attends the LA premiere of

    Moby Apologizes to Natalie Portman Over Book Controversy

    Moby has issued an apology of sorts after writing in his recently published memoir “Then It Fell Apart” that he dated Natalie Portman when she was 20 — a claim the actress refuted. “As some time has passed I’ve realized that many of the criticisms leveled at me regarding my inclusion of Natalie in Then [...]

  • Bong Joon-ho reacts after winning the

    Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' Wins the Palme d'Or at Cannes

    CANNES — The 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival wrapped with jury president Alejandro González Iñárritu announcing the group’s unanimous decision to award the Palme d’Or to South Korean director Bong Joon-ho for his sly, politically charged “Parasite.” Following last year’s win for humanistic Japanese drama “Shoplifters,” the well-reviewed Asian thriller represents the yin [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content