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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.

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