1992. The Sorceress of Dirah – Dongeng Dari Dirah

The Sorceress of Dirah – Dongeng Dari Dirah

Director : Sardono W. Kusuma (with Robert Chappell)
Production Company : P. T. Katena Grandview Films, Jakarta
Year of Production : 1992
Adaptation : Sardono W. Kusuma
Producers : Robert Chappell and Basuki Ramelan
Cinematographer : Robert Chappell
Music : Otto Sidharta.
Performed by : Villagers from Teges, Bali and Sardono W. Kusuma.
Running Time : 45 mins
Format : DVD in PAL format

The Sorceress of Dirah is an experimental performance event of Balinese dances and legends, developed by the Javanese performance artist and choreographer, Sardono W. Kusuma, and restaged over many years, working with a group in the village of Teges in Bali. Presented widely in Europe and the USA in the mid-1970s, a film version of The Sorceress of Dirah was filmed in 35mm colour by Sardono working in Bali in 1992 with American cinematographer/ director Bob Chappell.

The film opens with images that conjure up the combined earthiness and communality of life in Bali, that facilitate shared rituals and performances whereby village communities have for generations sought to balance the forces of good and evil, and where for some there is no distinction made between reality and the world of religion and myth. Incarnations of the sorceress of the village of Dirah are performed by an actor from the village. This in turn provides “an opening for real sorcery to enter the village”, against which the villagers must defend themselves.

The film develops in four sections. In the first section the rice goddess, Dewi Sri, is called forth in a context of village labour and ritual chanting. In the second, the village holds a performance of the legend of ‘The Sorceress of Dirah’, in which the actor is taken over by his role. In the third, the widow Dirah pairs her daughter with a zombie from the cemetery. In the fourth section, the daughter of Dirah escapes her mother’s power and finds love in a temple (the fertility temple, Candi Sukuh in Java) where she is surrounded by mystic carvings symbolising many dimensions of sexuality. In reaction Dirah becomes the monster Rangda, but is defeated by young people of the village. Throughout, the film invokes myths and legends by which village communities have for generations sort to balance forces of good and evil.

Sardono uses a voice-over in English to introduce the various stages of his drama, but does not subtitle the incantations and utterances of the participants, in order to subject the audience to the full impact of his drama, wherein language is subordinate to the hypnotic, near hallucinatory, and at times frenzied, spell of the images.