Authoritarian dictates masquerade as democratic reality in this slow burn Indo-thriller, and a young man must decide if it is worth discarding his values and losing his peace of mind for an affluent life.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
Housekeeping in an opulent compound on the outskirts of a small Indonesian town, young Rakib (Kib) is surprised by the sudden return of the absent landlord. Retired military general, Purnawinata (Purna), returns home to run as a mayoral candidate, with Kib assuming the role of trusted assistant. The pair begin to form a surrogate father-son bond, but is “the general” really the father figure Kib is hoping for?
Purna‘s veneer of beneficence quickly recedes when his reputation is threatened and Kib witnesses a disturbing side to his would-be benefactor. Those Purna names “friend” are reminded in no uncertain terms the cost of that friendship, and Kib realises that his privileged position is no different. Unquestioning obedience is expected, personal unease swept aside; Kib is left questioning the choices he is willing to live with. Inventive cinematography underscores themes of pretence and complicity in this tense morality tale. Visual obfuscation, via shots composed through windows, fences, tree branches, or using mirrors or mirrored surfaces, enhance a sense of psychological disconnection. Writer-director Makbul Mubarak obliquely critiques the violent history of his homeland, and the abuses of power at its centre, seeing Autobiography earn a FIPRESCI prize at the 2022 Venice Film Festival. — Jacob Powell
“In this age of autofiction and the fashionability of personal memoirs, Mubarak beckons us to see the concept of “autobiography” in a more abstract sense. This is a tense, downbeat quasi-thriller, obsessed with atmospherically grimy bilateral compositions filmed through reflective surfaces, such as fungus-caked plexiglass windows. It feels like a dream that Indonesia, haunted by its past, is having about itself—a “national” autobiography—with its erstwhile fascist political structure eerily reflected in its central power dynamic between a regional mayor, General Purna, and his young enforcer.” — David Katz, Cineuropa