1971. Wadjah Seorang Laki-laki – Ballad of a Young Man

Wadjah Seorang Laki-laki – Ballad of a Young Man

Indonesian title Wadjah Seorang Laki-laki
SBS Title Ballad of a Young Man
Director Teguh Karya
Year of Production 1971
Producer Turino Djunaedy (P.T. Sarinande Film)
Screenplay Teguh Karya
Cinematography Tantra Suryadi
Editing Tantra Suryadi
Production Design Benny Benhardi
Music Idris Sardi Cast Rima Melati, Slamet Rahardjo, Tuti Indra Malaon, W.D. Mochtar, Nano Riantiarno
World Sales Turino Djunaedy (P.T. Sarinande Film)
Original Format: Cinemascope and Colour Video Format: VHS Pal, Standard Screen, SBS English Sub-titles, 110 mins

Wadjah Seorang Laki-Laki (literally ‘The Face of a Man’) is set in villages on the edge of Batavia in the early 1840s – in a community of families of Portuguese descent – and in Batavia itself, at the time of the full implementation of the Dutch colonial state and of its policies for systematically exploiting the indigenous population via the plantation system of forced labour. At the core of this film is a drama of a son (Amallo) rebelling against his father. This rebellion is kindled by the father’s treatment of Amallo’s mother, and further fired by the father’s involvement with the Dutch. The irresponsible and lecherous father is entrusted by senior Dutch officers to look after their horses and is making money and gaining prestige from the position accorded to him by the Dutch. The film has a very emotional and romantic, yet highly controlled and expressive performance by Slamet Rahardjo as Amallo, the perturbed son, on whom the film concentrates.

This was the first film written and directed by Teguh Karya, up till then a theatre director, working for the first time in film together with his subsequently famous and seminal film and theatre group, Teater Populer. Many of the themes of Teguh Karya’s later films are here: the responsibility of parents for their children and the betrayal of children by their parents or by their society; the emotionality of young adults, and the need to take their problems – and the way they see the world – seriously; the diverse ethnic elements that make up Jakarta (Batavia’s) history; psychological conflicts intruding into political situations (here colonialism); the way in which people betray one another without fully intending to. The film is noted for its evocation of Jakarta in a previous century, and includes a brief but quite wonderfully staged scene of singing and dancing to a traditional musical form that evolved in Batavia’s Chinese community and was adopted by the Betawi, Gambang Kromong – a scene set in a Chinese brothel (adjacent to the Dutch fort) where the ethnically Portuguese, Amallo, follows his father and where he dances with the women. There is also a scene of a Muslim wedding, with traditional costumes and music.

The film has at times been claimed by Teguh to be his favourite among his own works, and this view of its quality and importance has been endorsed by some Indonesian critics, notably by Marselli Sumarmo and by Nan Trevini Achnas, in their rating of this film (in the 1999 Cinemaya Journal of Asian cinema survey) as one of the ten best Indonesian films ever made.

Availability: Between Three Worlds Video is licensed to sell this film on VHS video to anywhere in the worldexcluding Indonesia.