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Filmfest Hamburg’s Asia Express Section
by Becky Tan

The Filmfest Hamburg (FF HH) was divided into ten sections that includes the MICHEL Kinder und Jugend Filmfest for children/young people. As well, at Filmfest Hamburg’s invitation the Molodist Kyiv International Film Festival from Ukraine took place. The seven sections in FF HH are: Große Freiheit – showing films made in Germany; Hamburger Filmschau – showcases films made in/by Hamburg filmmakers; Veto! – shows political films; Transatlantik – showing films from the USA and Canada. Asia Express features films from – of course: Asia. There is Voilà! – with films in French from France, Belgium, and Canada, while Vitrina – features films from Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries, and Televisionen – German television productions. There were five to 10 films in each section. The last section, Kaleidoskop, has 37 films from around the world that do not fit into the other categories.

I was interested in the films from Indonesia in the Asia Express category. Due to my partnership with a Chinese, who was born and raised in Indonesia, I attempted to learn the language; I visited the country several times. My Asian friends in Hamburg are almost all from Indonesia.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY, Makbul Mubarak 2022

Rakib (Kevin Ardilava), 18 years old, has little contact with his family. His brother has migrated to Singapore, his father is serving a prison sentence and his mother is rather out of the picture. Luckily, Rakib can serve as housekeeper for Purna (Arswendy Bening Swara), a retired general, who is now campaigning to become mayor. The area is full of huge election posters featuring Purna. One day Rakib and Purna go out to hunt birds; they see that someone has vandalized one of Purna’s posters. He is furious. Rakib knows that the offender was his friend Agus. He convinces Agus to confess to Purna, expecting that there will be an apology and forgiveness. This ends differently.

This Indonesian film has an almost all-male cast. The relationship between Rakib and Purna swells into a father/son situation with Rakib playing chess with Purna, who has three daughters but no son. The plot proceeds quietly, slowly, with no unnecessary music. It touches on loyalty, revenge, dependency, turning rage into blessing, being wary whom you trust and “there are other ways of saying ‘I’m sorry.’” As the situation becomes unbearable, Rakib attempts to leave, but is forced back to Purna, who says, “This is your home, son.” Unsurprisingly, there is a funeral. Surprising, however, is that Indonesian people seem not to wear black at this event. AUTOBIOGRAPHY is Mubarak’s first full-length film. Made in East Java, it premiered at the 2022 Venice Film Festival where film critics named it best film, out of competition.

STONE TURTLE, Woo Ming Jim 2022

Zahara (Asmara Abigail) flees Indonesia with her small niece Nika (Samara Kenzo) to a small island in Malaysia, which is shaped like a turtle. It is almost deserted, with only eight other women living there. Zahara sought peace, where her niece, age 10, could have a small chance of a normal life after her mother was killed in order to protect the family honor. Also, Nika was not accepted at the local school in Indonesia. She likes to read about Marvel Woman, a superhero, and her model. The women sell fish. Suddenly, a man appears on the beach. It is Samad (Bront Palarae) and he is researching rare turtle eggs. Zahara must rescue him when he begins to sink into slime, and their relationship grows closer. She tells him the story of the stone turtle which is on the beach.

STONE TURTLE enlarges the plot with flashbacks and new components. It is more complicated than expected, although it works well with only three main characters. Zahara always wears the same red dress What was her history before fleeing to the island. Who is Nika, really? Is there a boy hiding in the forest? Director Woo Ming Jim has enjoyed 16 years directing films, including WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER and THE TIGER FACTORY. STONE TURTLE played at the 2022 Locarno Film Festival where film critics selected it as the best film.