Saturday, August 12, 2006

Gie (2005)

Gie (Riri Riza, 2005)

Riri Riza's biopic on Indonesian political journalist Soe Hok Gie is an odd creature. Unlike most other biopics which put its hero on a venerated pedestal, using the hero's shortcomings, traumas and past mistakes as jumping boards to illuminate human ideal elements, Riza's Gie doesn't merely put Soe Hok Gie in a pedestal, but an unreachable ivory tower: an inhuman observer, uncommitted and unattached, perpetually lonely. It's a confusing film, really. It's trappings is historical: Sukarno has led Indonesia to independence but placed his "guided democracy," a euphemism for dictatorship in place.

It boasts of political knowhow: Soe Hok Gie is an active participant in the student rallies that led to Sukarno bestowing his power to his right hand man, Suharto, who would later on, attempt an eradication of the Communist Party and its stalwart followers. Yet Gie falters as a historical or a political biopic, its main interest is the personal trials of Soe Hok Gie, a rather uninteresting fellow, more introvert and repressed, possibly asexual yet psychologically complex.

Nicholas Supatra plays Soe Hok Gie. He supposedly studied filmed footages of the person, and copied much of the Indonesian activist's movements. Supatra's performance is quite good. He never resorts to cheap histrionics, and is most powerful when the camera observes his facial features, usually too impenetrable for easy reading. Riza uses Soe Hok Gie's entries in his published diary as voice-overed guidance for narrative. If I were to critique Gie's writings, it's mostly middlebrow poetics and his philosophical musings a hodgepodge of borrowed influences. Gie is well-read, the film takes much time showing Gie either reading, writing, or observing. Few initiatory actions are done by Gie, and he is satisfied being in the sidelines, pushing his friends in the limelight as he struggles with words, releasing anti-government propaganda as a student, and hard-hitting expose articles as a young journalist. One can comment as to how much an activist Gie is. He is curiously non-commitant. His bravery in his works never matched by the courage of the body. He is strong when he is accompanied, but when alone, he shrivels and weakens.

One interesting point Riza suggests is the notion that Gie is a repressed homosexual. There are many scenes depicting a much-too-close friendship between Gie and his childhood friend Han (who as an adult turns into a Communist). Recurring dreams of the two playing in the beach suggest homoerotic tension which was never really culminated. Supatra even depicts Gie as effeminate in his ways. He walks with a beauty queen swagger. Being a Chinese-Indonesian and brought up in a Catholic environment, schooled in a Catholic elementary and high school, it is not doubtful that Gie is a closeted homosexual. He is given two female love interests in the film, and there was an attempt by his peers to have have him be devirginized by a prostitute, but despite these, he chooses celibacy. It's all suggestive though, as I'm not sure how Indonesians will react to homosexual content in one of their nation's most revered figures.

Riza's Soe Hok Gie is a character of ambiguity. He is troubled both in his political ambiguity and his sexual orientation, which leads to the biggest irony in the film. When Gie released his article discussing the massacre of Communists in the island of Bali by Suharto's military men, Gie suspects that he is next to be silenced. When awake, he is bothered by not completely living up to any political ideal, or view but being persecuted by what he thinks is a noble search for truth, without any point of view for such (a great sin in an era of political upheaval). When asleep, he is bothered by his psychological lusting for his childhood friend. Gie feels safe and free when he is hiking. Yet Gie finally dies inhaling noxious fumes from Java's highest mountain, not from his so-called political opponents, or being discovered in his closeted repressions.

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