Skip to main content


Indonesia, 1985 (MIFF 1986)

Director: Teguh Karya

BTTER COFFEE is a recent work by Indonesia's foremost contemporary director Teguh Karya. Teguh Karya has made some 12 films, and is co-founder and leader of the Jakarta based film production collective, Teater Populer. This collective is the group that produced the Indonesian film PONIRAH (directed by Teguh's associate, Slamet Rahardjo) screened at last year's Melbourne Film Festival, showing for the first time some of the compelling new work being done in Indonesia.

BITTER COFFEE is a strong and sobering film. It opens on the shores of Lake Toba in North Sumatra, as a Batak family celebrates (in a procession led by a band) the departure of their son who is going to the big city to be educated and to work. But an accident has just occurred on the lake, a woman has been drowned, and her maddened husband. Togar, in grief, interrupts and breaks up the procession.

The film then traces Togar's story. Togar is also from Lake Toba, and he has already tried his fortune in Jakarta, working first in a cement factory, and then as a reporter in a daily newspaper. In Jakarta Togar forms a liaison with a woman. Lola. much older than himself, and who has three children. In his work as a reporter, Togar investigates a case of the rape of a young woman, Karsih. Karsih is also from an outlying country area. She is brought to Jakarta in a group to find work as a live-in help; but on the way she is raped by the man in charge of the group. Togar's poor handling of this case leads to his temporary suspension from the newspaper.

The film combines a rich and dense narrative, told in both flashbacks and flash-forwards, with location shooting in some of the poorer areas of Jakarta, producing an effect of complexity and toughness at the same time. The psychology of the young man is important, showing how his work is dominated by his personal immaturity, as are his personal involvements. But centrally the film is raising the problem of the drift to the cities in the developing countries, and the pressures endured by those who try their fortunes in this way, particularly those who still retain some idealism.

See also...


Beautifully designed and photographed, with exquisite use of colour, this stylish and atmospheric film is set in West Java in the early 1930s at a time of particularly right-wing and repressive Dutch ... More »


'Mother, ... The book that you have already read, ... I now begin to read ... Newly, on the first page ' ... (epigraph to Ibunda from a poem by Rik A. Sakri) ... Ibunda [Mother] is the most recent ... More »


First shown abroad at the London Film Festival in 1980, November 1828 - the most internationally renowned of all Indonesian films - is, at last, to be screened in Australia. ... November 1828 is set ... More »


This remarkable film (made in 1974 by one of Indonesia's most talented directors. Sjuman DJayal may have become a lost film if there had not been a project mounted to make internegatives and new ... More »


... ... Nyi Ronggeng is probably the most remarkable fiction film ever made about popular culture and folk traditions in Indonesia. It sets its story among the members of a Ronggeng dance troupe, and ... More »


Based on her letters (published in English as Letters of a Javanese Princess), memoirs of other people and a biography, this fascinating film tells the story of Javanese women's emancipationist ... More »

Select a festival
Search The Film Archive
Browse By Director