A House at a Thousand Waves / Rumah di Seribu Ombak (2012)

Based on the eponymous novel released in the beginning of the year, A House at a Thousand Waves tells the story of Syamihi, a boy living in Singaraja, Bali, with his father and sister, Syamihi. Syamihi, who is afraid to come near the ocean, is being bullied by a couple of adolescent thugs when he encounters Yanik, a lively local kid who doesn’t go to school and works at the beach, escorting tourists for dolphin-watching in the sea. They become close friends, one a Muslim and the other a Hindu, spending their days with each other’s company.

It’s a formula that has been repeated for quite some time in the Indonesian film scene lately. A beautiful setting showing the sceneries of the land, a nationalistic theme, characters with different races, and little kids. However, this film is actually a lot darker than what the premise might suggest. Yanik has a hidden secret that he was reluctant to share with Syamihi, but he then eventually tells him. However, due to the sensitive subject, the film seems rather meek in elaborating on that issue and in fact, throughout the whole film it feels like we’re bombarded with so many subplots. Yanik will disappear without a reason, and then reappear, and the disappear again for who-knows-how-many times. Probably ninety percent of the movie focuses on the young characters, and by the time the characters are grown up, the film has exhausted us. And bad acting doesn’t help either. The kids who play the two main characters are charming, refreshing and good–especially since this is their first picture. Yet the actor that plays the adult Yanik feels very hollow compared to his younger co-actor. It is such a drastic change that we can’t help but be bothered by it. And oddly, adult Syamini doesn’t even show up that much.

Despite it being a repeated formula, I actually always look forward to Indonesian films that show the beautiful landscape of this archipelago as its setting. It could help the tourism industry–which needs all the help it could get since the ministry doesn’t seem to give a crap about it–and, well, doesn’t it make you proud? We have all this wonderful nature all around us, right on our very own land. However, in this film the brownish tone of the whole film feels rather tiring. It’s probably done to give it a more serious, less ‘rainbow’ look, but I guess it doesn’t work for me. On a side note, into the end of the film there are some bad visual effects that are just.. laughable.

Erwin Arnada, who wrote the novel, helmed this feature as the director. Even though the script is written bu Jujur Prananto, Arnada surely has had a major hand in translating his own writing into the screen. Could it be that this is the ‘problem’? After all, a novel and a film are two very different things. These two different mediums have their own sets of rules of what works and what doesn’t. In the hands of a different director, we might have gotten something totally different. I haven’t read the book, but it seems like quite a strong material. I actually kind of like the idea of the ending, however depressing, yet in the final product itself, it doesn’t feel as emotional as it is originally intended.

All the disappointments aside, I still think it is incredibly important that this kind of films get made and screened. Having variety is definitely a positive move in the industry.

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