Feature debutant Makbul Mubarak’s “Autobiography,” which premieres in Venice’s Horizons strand on Saturday, is a deeply personal tale informed by his own experiences.
The film, which is being sold by Alpha Violet, follows young Rakib (Kevin Ardilova), whose father is in prison and whose brother works abroad. He works as the housekeeper in a mansion in a rural Indonesian town belonging to retired general Purna (Arswendy Bening Swara). Purna returns to the town to start his mayoral election campaign and Rakib, whose clan has worked for the general’s family for centuries, serves as his assistant. An act of vandalism during the campaign triggers an escalating chain of violence.
Mubarak, formerly a film critic, made several acclaimed shorts before embarking on the aptly titled “Autobiography,” which he describes an “emotional investigation” into his childhood. He grew up in Indonesia during the latter days of the dictatorship, which lasted from 1966-1998.
“In such an authoritarian society, obedience is regarded as an honorable quality of a citizen. My family are state civil servants. Their work quality is even more judged by their obedience to the authority. ‘Autobiography’ is an interrogation towards this obedience,” Mubarak told Variety. “The film [asks] a lot of questions about the relations between obedience, loyalty and the role of the state in shaping the morality of its citizens. I believe that morality should be influenced by one’s own sense of humanity. I wonder what happens when the state intervenes, even tries to gain control in the process?”
“Autobiography” is produced by KawanKawan Media, led by leading Indonesian producer Yulia Evina Bhara. The process began in 2017 when Mubarak sent Bhara the first draft of the script; they developed it at various writing labs including Torino Film Lab, EAVE Ties That Bind and SEAFIC, among others. It was also invited to be presented at project markets in Berlin and Locarno.
Bhara cobbled together a seven-country co-production between Indonesia, France, Singapore, Poland, Philippines, Germany and Qatar, and the project was ready to shoot in 2020 when the pandemic ravaged the world. On the bright side, Mubarak had more time with the actors and the crews, and prep benefited thanks to the lockdown.
“As a producer, it is always gratifying to me to see a story that once was only a scratch on paper, a fog in a director’s head, finally come alive thanks to collaborations and friendship,” Bhara told Variety. “I also like to work with new talents with the freshest ideas and intense passion. This is what I want to keep doing in the future with our company.
“As for Makbul, I encourage him to do something more on an international level, working with collaborators and actors with various background while retaining his personal touch so that he can bring his future stories to wider audiences,” Bhara adds.
A personal touch is indeed what Mubarak is aiming for with his next project, where he will explore another aspect of his family and his childhood, specifically about an incident involving him and this mother that occurred in 1999.
As for Bhara, she has just wrapped principal photography on “Gaspar” by Yosep Anggi Noen (2019 Locarno winner “The Science of Fictions”) and preparing a distribution plan for Ming Jin Woo’s 2022 Locarno winner “Stone Turtle,” and Carlo Francisco Manatad’s 2021 Locarno winner “Whether the Weather Is Fine,” all of which are produced by KawanKawan.