AIYA Victoria’s Pingkan Palilingan reviews the opening film from this year’s Indonesian Film FestivalSomething in the Way: an unusually provocative film, which offers a “a harsh and vivid description” of Jakarta’s sex industry.

What’s really getting in the way in Teddy Soeriaatmadja’s new feature film, Something In The Way? It’s not the transvestite dad who secretly works as a streetwalker to sustain his family as in Teddy Soeriaatmadja’s Lovely Man (2011). This time, according to actor Verdi Solaiman (who plays Pinem in the film) who was in Melbourne recently for the 9th IFF, what gets in the way of the protagonist achieving his goal is taboo love and the harsh realities of life in Jakarta’s slums.

Once again, Soeriaatmadja explores the slums and impoverished parts of urban Jakarta, as he did previously in Lovely Man. We are introduced to Ahmad (Reza Rahadian), a phlegmatic taxi driver who has no ambitions in life. At least within the first three minutes of the film, we already know what his source of pleasure is. Ahmad is shown masturbating in the cab to some magazine pinups hidden under the dashboard. At home, he does it again while watching bootlegged porn DVDs.

Living across from Ahmad’s room in the public housing (rumah susun) is Kinar (Ratu Felisha), a streetwalker and Ahmad’s growing desire. However, Ahmad is caught between his sexual urge and his devoutness as a Muslim – where he is reminded repeatedly in a local mosque of the condemnation towards the sin of adultery. Following a series of encounters, an unusual relationship develops between Ahmad and Kinar until it ends in unfortunate circumstances.

Something in the Way follows its predecessor, Lovely Man, in showcasing beautiful visuals of Jakarta street life and red-light districts – the backdrop of the thriving sex industry in the nation’s capital, atmospherically shot by cinematographer Ical Tanjung (Lovely Man). Don’t expect the movie to be overblown with sentimentality: it’s a harsh and vivid description of what it takes for the lower class society to live.

Only God (and the organisers of IFF) knows why Something in the Way was chosen as the opening night film for the 9th Indonesian Film Festival. It was a fearless decision to screen such an unusual and provocative depiction of the more sordid facets of Jakarta. Plus, Indonesian viewers were in for a few surprises; Something in the Way might be the pioneer of (almost) graphic sex scenes and nudity for Indonesian feature films.

However, Soeriaatmadja not only elaborates carefully on the loaded topic of sex and religion. The convincing yet evocative performance by award-winning Reza Rahadian brings us not to despise Ahmad, but rather empathise with him as we understand his struggles to be completely ordinary and “human”. Ratu Felisha herself is a charmer with her gripping performance as Kinar, where we are brought to sympathise with Kinar’s complete rejection towards compassion for her struggles to feed a family member.

Even so, the twisting plot towards the ending seems to betray our recognition with Ahmad’s characters that the director has built since the first minute of the movie. The ending almost feels careless; a local audience remarked how there was a tendency of reiterating the continuing stereotype towards Muslims. However, Soeriaatmadja fixes it up ASAP in the ending even before the viewers are able to spot this loophole. The director solves it with justice. At the end of the day, we will get the impression how “immoral” behaviours will be rectified through punishment. Whether it’s intentional from the director or unintentional, you decide. Nevertheless, Something in the Way opened the 9th Indonesian Film Festival with a kick.

Pingkan Palilingan attended Something in the Way as a guest of the Indonesian Film Festival. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australia-Indonesia Youth Association or its partners.