EARLY on in the Indonesian Film Festival’s opening night film Border, Jakarta city-slicker Jaleswari arrives at a remote village in the sparsely populated Kalimantan region.
Hot, tired and queasy from a long four-wheel-drive journey over corrugated roads, she is offered a rather leathery and suspect looking morsel of meat, which the village chief enthusiastically informs her is “from our hunt”.
Jaleswari, it is safe to say, is less than enthused.
This was my first viewing of an Indonesian flick. I am, I must admit, as much a novice in the world of Indonesian cinema as Jaleswari is in Kalimantan.
Like Jaleswari, I was welcomed into the fold with food, at the festival’s opening night gala. But the similarity ends there, because by golly I was enthused. The festival organisers had provided a tantalising spread of Indonesian culinary delights.
As my companion and I sat around munching on beef rendang and swaying our shoulders to the band, in strode an elegant creature in a full-length tribal patterned gown.
Heads turned, conversations lulled, and it soon became apparent that we were in the midst of Border’s leading lady, Marcella Zalianty.
“I wish I could be star-struck,” commented my friend, “but I guess I haven’t seen enough Indonesian movies to know who she is.”
Australians’ unfamiliarity with the films of their closest neighbour is something festival manager Yolanda Yasinta hopes to change.
“Through Indonesian Film Festival, we aim to promote and introduce Indonesia’s cultural diversity towards Australian crowd,” Yasinta told Meld earlier this month.
And diverse it certainly is. Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, seems like a foreign land to the reluctant Jaleswari.
The large firm she works for has sent her to investigate the failure of their investment in education in the region, but she faces hostility from those in the village who don’t see education as a priority.
Border is ultimately a story of boundaries between people, and the eventual realisation of a shared humanity. As such, it made a fitting opener for a festival which aims to break down the boundaries between two neighbouring, but vastly different countries.
Towards the film’s end Jaleswari reflected: “I experienced something I never have in my whole life.”
Casting my mind to the kind of generic Hollywood blockbusters I’ve been watching recently, it dawned on me that I shared Jaleswari’s satisfaction at having seen something a little bit different.
Of course, I don’t mean to insinuate that lazing in a plush cinema seat is in any way as physically and emotionally gruelling as working in a far-flung jungle village, but you catch my drift.
As the film came to an end, the graceful Marcella Zalianty rose from her seat and made her way to a podium at the front of the theatre.
After having an enlarged image of the very same woman projected onto the screen in front of us for the past two hours, it was somewhat surreal to have her pass our seat, her floaty dress grazing our armrests.
“Okay,” my friend whispered, leaning in towards my ear, “I’m star-stuck now.”
I had to agree.