1955. Tamu Agung – Exalted Guest

Tamu Agung – Exalted Guest

English Title : Exalted Guest
Producer/Director : Usmar Ismail
Script : Suryo Sumanto and Basoeki Resobowo (from an idea of Usmar Ismail)
Year of Production : 1955
Production Company : Perfini
Photography : Max Tera
Editor : Soemardjono
Music : Saiful Bahri
Lyrics : Alwi Dahlan
Cast : M. Pandji Anom, Tina Melinda, Udjang, Sulastri
Original Format and Running Time : 35mm, Black and White,100 mins.
Print Source : Sinematek Indonesia
Format DVD in PAL format

Filmed in 1955 by Usmar Ismail, regarded as a founding father of the Indonesian cinema, Tamu Agung (‘Exalted Guest’) is about the much awaited visit of a dignitary from Jakarta to a small isolated village,’Sukaslamet’ (‘Playing it Safe’) near a mountainous area in East Java. The dignitary fails to come, and in the atmosphere of heightened expectation, a pedlar of herbal medicines is mistaken for the visiting VIP, and is accorded a ceremonial welcome in the most elaborate Javanese style.

Widely acclaimed as a brilliant political comedy, Tamu Agung’s satire is primarily directed at the increasing role of charismatic political leadership in the newly created Republic of Indonesia, which had gained independence only 5 years before the film was made. Tamu Agung was not liked by the Sukarno government, but they did not try to ban it, and the film was released in Indonesia. Of central importance is the figure of the tukang obat (hawker of quack medicines), but also of interest are the finely written and directed (yet hilarious) scenes showing the deliberations of the local assembly of village heads and officials, awaiting with expectation the arrival of the guest. In these scenes traditional village Java is represented (even if humorously) as a highly consultative society – at the level of the village and district councils – but a society bewildered by political events goings on in the national parliament in the newly created capital city, Jakarta, which for them duplicates their own procedures but fails to provide the resources they need.

The writing of these scenes brilliantly interweaves modern political discourse (including a militant feminism that appears to have emerged with the Indonesian revolution) with archaic Javanese rhetoric, taken from the narratives of the Wayang (traditional Javanese shadow play). The lengthy scene of welcome presents us with one of the most stirring mass scenes of Reog Ponorogo (a spectacular tiger and peacock dance from the Ponorogo area of East Java) ever filmed.