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RORO MENDUT

Indonesia, 1983 (MIFF 1987, Women In Recent Indonesian Cinema)

Director: Ami Priyono

This exquisitely designed and photographed film is set in the 17th century kingdom of Mataram in Central Java. It is based on a legend that has been reworked many times in traditional performances, songs and narratives, and more recently has appeared in Ketoprak popular drama and novel form.

In the film the old legend intertwines a story of passion and love, with subtle references to cultural contradictions in Indonesia. The armies of the king of Mataram have suppressed the rebels in the North coast of Java. But one coastal woman, Roro Mendut, refuses to surrender to her aristocratic captor, who leads the army. Roro Mendut uses her sexuality to resist the sexual aggression of a powerful man. When she and her lover die in their attempt to escape captivity, we are left asking if weapons and force are an adequate means of conquering the spirit of resistance. Though set in a kingdom of the past, cultural and sexual conflicts combine in this film to make it a powerful yet subtle statement about power relations of today.

Of particular note in the film is the use of traditional dances from Central Java and the North Coastal regions as a means of expressing both cultural and sexual difference. It has been described as one of the most successful recent attempts to incorporate elements of traditional culture into a modern Indonesian narrative film.

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