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PONIRAH

Indonesia, 1983 (MIFF 1985)

Director: Slamet Rahardjo

This film has been described in Variety as an Indonesian melodrama that harks back to Hollywood of the 40s, and by Jerry Liu as a family drama that possesses a rigour and a stylised structure. The film does indeed have a melodramatic denouement, and shares some structural characteristics of melodrama, particularly in aspects of its representation of women. But its portrayal of the life of the child, Ponirah, outside the family, in a wider more ambiguous village community, has little to do with family drama. Moreover the performance by Christine Hakim as Trindil takes the film right away from melodrama.

The film begins in 1964 as a businessman returns to his home in Central Java from a trip, only to discover his beloved wife dying in childbirth. The child, Ponirah, lives. Some years later she is out with her eldest brother when he is killed in an accident. Rejected by her father, who blames her for the death of those he most loved, she is taken away and cared for by Trindil, her nurse (who eventually must turn to prostitution in order to support her charge). As she grows to womanhood, Ponirah is cheated and exploited by almost everybody. Finally she seeks revenge in the only way she sees as open to her.

Slamet Rahardjo, who directed and also plays a key role in the film, is one of the most prominent members of the latest wave of progressive filmmakers in Indonesia. Drawing on his acting and theatre experience alongside Teguh Karya (who appears as "Franky Darling" in Ponirah), he has already produced a small but exploratory body of work which has sought to break away from the stereotyped imitations of western cinema, which plagues so much of Asian cinema, and looks at aspects of Indonesian society and traditions in purely Indonesian terms.

His first feature, Moon and Sun (also known as A Time to Mend) dramatises the conflict between the different values of village and city life through the story of a young man who is expelled from his village, learns to survive in a tough quarter of Jakarta, and finally decides to return home to patch up his past. Ponirah (his third film, but originally planned as the second) is something of a mirror image of Moon and Sun - examining traditional conflicts this time through the eyes of a female protagonist.

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