Praised by many and hailed as one of Indonesian best movies in 2016, Istirahatlah, Kata-Kata stealthily wormed its way to my radar. Naturally, the promise of being inspired from Wiji Thukul’s poem and life, along with a peek on what happened during the last years of New Order (Order Baru) regime, piqued my interest. But you know what they said. Curiosity killed the cat, and this time there’s no satisfaction to bring it back.
Wiji Thukul (Gunawan Maryanto) is a renowned poet, one who isn’t afraid to speak his mind and critiqued the New Order regime. Often, demonstrators used and yelled his words during rallies against the government to convey their frustration concerning the oppression. So when a riot broke out in 1996, he and few other activists are accused as instigators.
Forced to flee, Wiji escape to Borneo while his wife Sipon (Marissa Anita) lived under the government’s tight watch with their two kids in Solo.
For some of us who weren’t born yet, or were too young when shit went drown the drain, the riot of 1998 and the years leading up to that is just a vague part of history. But for some who lived through it, it’s a source of terror. To others, it’s a source of inspiration to kindle the flame of revolution, of going against corrupt government and make this nation a better place. Isn’t it a bit insolent then, to use such important moment in history that left such deep impact on people’s lives, for something as shallow as ego masturbation? Because that’s what this movie felt like for me. Just a way for Yosep Anggi Noen to jack off and please his ego. Much like what Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss did with Sherlock. But sure, if we want to put it in a “brighter” light, we can call it a passion project instead of an ego trip.
First and foremost, I understand that not every movie have to be a social or political statement. I said it myself, some are meant for escapism. But for a “passion project” – because as far as I know, it wasn’t commissioned. Do correct me if I’m wrong – shouldn’t it at least have a purpose or something to say? See, I’ve watched a film that gave me similar vibe last month. It’s called hUSh by Djenar Maesa Ayu. It was also an ego masturbation for Djenar and her peers, but at least it got a point about speaking up against sexual abuse. Istirahatlah Kata-Kata, on the other hand? This movie was empty. Soulless. It captured a fraction of Wiji Thukul’s life, his days on the run, away from his family. But that’s that. It didn’t tell me shit about who Wiji Thukul is, what kind of person he is, and how he impacted the person around him. It just captured those moments, without actually conveying anything.
As one of the rare movies that touched on this country’s sensitive subject – namely the New Order regime and the life it trampled, Istirahatlah Kata-Kata could’ve been poignant. It could’ve talked about how the powerful oppressed those who dared to challenge them or simply questioned the narrative that the oppressor’s provided. It could’ve talked about how words are actual weapon, how phrases and ideas could scared those in control so much because those things cannot be killed. But here, those are mentioned merely in a short quip as the reason why Wiji Thukul had to go on the run. I didn’t even got to see or feel how much his words inspired people to take action. Oh yes, Gunawan recited Wiji Thukul’s poem – quite beautifully, I must admit – but it didn’t ignited any fire within me. I admired how he could strings everyday words into such exquisite poetry, but that’s that.
But even if Anggi Noen refused to go deeper into politics for whatever reason, it could have been a marvelous character study. By focusing on Wiji Thukul and the handful of people around him, including his own wife and kids, Istirahatlah Kata-Kata could’ve thoroughly explored the psychological effect of being in the run. Of fighting against something as big as a country and how to cope with that – whether it’s by being extremely vigilant or just let things unfold and enjoy every moments as much as one could. Of having to fled like a convict despite knowing one’s fighting for the right cause. Being on the run is never easy, and Anggi Noen had the luxury to go full length on how it affect Wiji Thukul. Instead, I got nothing. During 105 minutes, I learned nothing about Wiji Thukul. Not of the fire in him, his brilliance, his defiance, not even about his suffering and how he cope with it. For a story that’s supposedly captured the life of Wiji Thukul, it really didn’t help me to know him as a person.
Perhaps, it was also because Gunawan Maryanto was too emotionless for my liking. So much so I couldn’t sympathize with him at all. I mean, it’s alright if he wants to play it subtle. He didn’t necessarily needs to scream and lash out on the world or cry in anguish. He could’ve speak to me through silence. But, for whatever reason, I feel so detached from him and he didn’t make me feel anything aside from acknowledging that he does exist. Things are better on the side of Marissa Anita’s Sipon, though. Through her silent moments, I could feel her devotion. And she actually made me sympathized with her, even if it wasn’t that much. Those scenes of her in the kitchen and her final kitchen were the only ones that touched my otherwise impassive heart.
Other notable performance came from Arswendi Nasution, as a soldier who chanced upon Wiji Thukul and his friend Martin, played by Eduward Manalu. Though he only showed up in one scene, that was the one that captured my attention so thoroughly and for that short moment, I felt my heart pounding in my ribcage. Like it was me on the barbershop, and it was me fearing for my life. The way Arswendi delivered his lines and the way he carried himself left such impression on me. And it was through his lines, that I felt how violence and one-sided persecution had became such a normal thing in New Order regime. Aside from that scene and Marissa’s, though, only the recital of Wiji Thukul’s poet impressed me. That, and I quite like the way the scenes were framed, how most of the time the camera just stay still and I got to appreciate everything that appeared on the screen.
Silence is gold, and often it speaks louder than words. But in the case of Istirahatlah Kata-Kata, it didn’t tell me anything worth listening to. It was just an ego masturbation, Yosep Anggi Noen’s ego trip to please himself and his peers by utilizing a name that activists and NGO would rally behind. I had hoped that perhaps, through this, I could learn about Wiji Thukul and got a glimpse of the life that New Order regime violated. Alas, I got nothing but a hollow feeling.
Director: Yosep Anggi Noen. Writer: Yosep Anggi Noen. Released on: 19 January 2017. Casts: Gunawan Maryanto, Marissa Anita, Arswendi Nasution, Eduward Manalu, Melanie Subono, Davi Yunan.