Movie Review

The Seen and Unseen (2017) by Kamila Andini

Original Name: Sekala Niskala

Director:  Kamila Andini

Runtime: 96 minutes

Language: Indonesian

IMDB Link:

Kamila Andini: Born in Jakarta, Indonesia in 1986, she studied sociology and media arts at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. Her films focus on socio-cultural topics, gender equality and environmental issues. Her two short films Following Diana and Memoria both explore women’s issues in Jakarta and East Timor.

“After my first feature, I wanted to find out more about myself — what kind of film I should make and what kind of story I should tell. I wanted to go back to the roots; I wanted to portray what Asian humans, particularly Indonesian, are really constructed of. In this case, Bali is a place where holism is still strongly felt in daily life. “The Seen and Unseen” is the philosophy they believe in life; life is in harmony with all the seen things, and the unseen as well.”

I’m so glad I included this film in the Selection. The Seen and Unseen is amongst the least accessible film out of the line-up, not only because it comes from Indonesia with non-professional cast, but also because its visual language is so different and distinctive, it’s far-removed from the conventional storytelling. The main plot, or what it appears to be anyways, details a young girl Tantri (Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih) who copes with the illness of her twin brother Tantra (Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena). At first we see him taken to the hospital. As his health gets worse, Tantri drifts away from reality with her meeting the healthy Tantra at night, and their flashback at the time when Tantra was normal. This is where the plot basically ends in place for part-mythological, part-psychological tone that blurs the line between… well… the seen and unseen, the death and the living.

Andini asserts that her inspiration comes from the titular Balinese mythology, in which – like how Yin and Yang work – the opposite components live together to create a balance harmony. In that sense, the cast in the film considers Tantra and Tantri as a blessing, as they complete each other. The film relies heavily on the motif of egg: the yolk and the white part, as the kids represent one part that make the egg whole. As a result, when one of them becomes ill, the balance is thrown off so that Tantri sees the underworld, where children ghosts rolling and walking nearby, where their hands reach toward as if they invite her to that world, where her twin brother is there to play with her. Perceiving The Seen and Unseen through that mythological light, it deepens the narrative. Appropriately, the film happens mostly during the night, whose attention is paid closely to the natural eerily sound, and the image of children ghosts walking and dancing in the bright moonlight.

We can also view The Seen and Unseen in its psychological aspect, as well. As Tantra becomes more and more out of the reality, the images that she sees, all the theatrical dances that she does, all in the service for Tantra to make sense of the loss of her twin brother. It’s a film that doesn’t take child’s point of view lightly, instead it honors child’s imaginative ways to cope with such serious issues that they themselves can’t express clearly. Most of the dances she plays, for example, take direct inspiration from the conversations she heard in real life. Many extended dances, which I can argue would be much at home in children’s play, never feel out of place. What the film succeeds so wonderfully is that it portrays the grieving process and the haunting sad tone with zero heavy-handed approach. While the film compensates much of its plot for its moody tone (yes, it’s really incoherent), it’s to Andini’s credit who creates a film with vision unlike any other, a film that is strange yet grounded. Lyrical, magical, sad, it shines bright when it’s surrounded by the darkness of the night, even at the cost of its more accessible reach.

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