Reviewed by David Reeve
John Darling’s new production is a skilfully crafted response to the Bali bombings, reflecting on how some of the bereaved, Balinese and Australian, have found the strength to cope with their loss and to heal. The complex sequence of interspersed interviews is held together with a sureness of touch.
The video opens with a sombre warning about pictures of the dead and injured. In fact the opening scene is peaceful: a bell chimes over misty stone steps, a temple just visible in the distance. The steps summon the viewer. The path is open and upwards. There is an air of stillness, mystery and expectation. The opening titles roll, the bell ringing more insistently. The camera draws back from the ceremonial bell to show a Balinese priest.
The transition is sharp and shocking, to footage of the clubs aflame, carnage, sirens, bodies, rescuers. The voiceover comes from people involved. The first is the dramatic, emotional, immensely articulate traffic officer familiar from television (Haji Bambang Priyanto), soon to become a chorus running through the film. He evokes the terrible images, alternating between an injured woman, and a young Balinese surfer who helped the injured. The setting moves to the clinic; ‘it was chaos’, explains a young Australian woman of her search for her dead husband. Three more widows describe their efforts to get information. So far none of the women are named; they are representatives as well as individuals.
The carnage is followed by the aftermath: bodies being carried out, commands given, order restored. There are officers, photographers, spectators, volunteers. The widows finally realise that their husbands are surely dead. Bodies are covered with white cloth.
The third phase involves anger, loss, the search for contact with the dead, and acceptance. Nat, a young Australian, goes to a psychic (balian), as do other Balinese families. They are sure they can speak directly to their dead family members through the woman psychic. Much information is given that should not have been known by the balian herself. Nat says ‘I got so much sense of relief. It really helped me heal faster...’. Plans are made for cremations.
Phase four considers innocence, guilt and purification. The Balinese are honest: outsiders are astonished when nothing is looted. The bomber, glimpsed at his trial, is transformed into one of the great, grotesque demonic figures in a vast purification ceremony. Yet it is the Balinese who feel guilty — they didn’t take care of the guests, the gods are angry.
There are fundraisers, a memorial concert, and questions about how the money is used. Widows have formed a sewing cooperative with help from an Australian. Sari Club staff criticise their treatment by the Club.
Discussion then turns to Amrozi who has, many believe, dishonoured Islam. The traffic officer Bambang and a bereaved family raise the point that Muslims had been long accepted in Bali.
The film moves to the beach, where two young widows sit , one a Javanese Muslim, the other a Hindu Balinese. They compare Hindu and Muslim burial practices. Nat also comes to the beach throwing in her husband’s ashes, describing the ceremony. She too is calm, feeling her loss keenly but remaining dignified.
The two young widows provide the final messages. The Javanese says: ‘As friends, we honour each other’s religion, whether Hindu or Muslim. I respect all religions, all faiths...’ In the final moments, the Balinese widow says ‘She is my best friend. We share the same destiny...We are like sisters although we have different religions ...although she’s from Java and I’m from Bali. There is no difference in our hearts.’ Her voice fades and the film returns to the mood of the opening scene. This is the upward path.
Such sentiments leave this viewer feeling admonished and exalted. Why can’t other people get along like that? This is about the healing of Indonesia too, and indeed the world. Written down, the sentiments are trite, but the widows have the dignity and authority that give their words great force.
The film has been expertly crafted to bring us to the concluding scene, from that first contemplative moment, and through the scenes of carnage and loss. Although John Darling has not spoken a word on camera, we hear the film’s voice clearly.
The sceptical mind says: beneath all religious strife there are economic and political factors. Hasn’t the film given in too easily to non-reason and emotion?
While considering all these thoughts, I nonetheless pay tribute to the power of this film and its expertise. It looks at ‘healing’ from many perspectives. It answers these questions on its own terms. It moved me. I can see it also as a great teaching weapon, compelling in itself, and sure to provoke lively discussion in all sorts of classes.
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Associate Professor David Reeve (firstname.lastname@example.org), Department of Chinese and Indonesian, UNSW.