A Crystal Clear Curfew
Usmar Ismails classic After the Curfew has recently been restored and screened at the Cannes Film Festival. The restoration process took one year. Heres why.
Iskandar, a veteran of the revolution, has broken the curfew in Ban-dung. He is running in the dead of the night before his foot is shot by the curfew guards. But Iskandar keeps running until he reaches the front yard of his sweetheart, Norma. The camera follows Iskandar as he drags his blood-soaked foot up the stairs of Normas house.
His expression shows not only pain, but happiness. Iskandar has just shot dead Gunawan, his ex commander, who once ordered him to kill a family, including children, "for the revolution. Later, Iskandar found out that the murder was ordered to take the familys valuables, which Gunawan later used to finance his business at the end of the war.
When the credits rolled, applause from the 300 viewers thundered at Salle Bunuel, one of the theaters at the Palais du Festival, Cannes, France, two weeks ago. Usmars 1954 film was chosen as the opening film for the Cannes Classics from May 16-27, 2012. Cannes also screened the restoration of Once Upon a Time in America by Sergio Leone, Tess by Roman Polanski, Jaws by Steven Spielberg, The Ring by Hitchcock, and Lawrence of Arabia by David Lean.
"A remarkable film, said Alexander Payne, an American director who gained acclaim for his satires such as Sideways and The Descendants. Payne was actually a jury for the competitions highest award, Palm dOr, but he nonetheless managed to squeeze in time to watch Usmars film.
Payne refused to give further comments due to his position as a judge. However, he said to Pierre Rissient, a French film critic who has been following Indonesian cinema, that he was "satisfied with Usmars film. "It was the right choice to watch this film: Its a quality film, and laden with emotions, said Payne as quoted by Rissient.
"I had no idea that Indonesia was making films with such complex themes in the 1950s, said Florence, a Parisian who participated in the festivals film workshop.
The digital format of After the Curfew is the restoration product of the 35 milimeter film, archived at the Sinematek, a private nonprofit film archive foundation. The restoration of the film was completed by LImmagine Ritrovata, a film lab in Italy, in collaboration with the National Museum of Singapore, the World Cinema Foundation, the Konfiden Foundation, and the Kineforum Board of the Arts, Jakarta.
According to Lee Chor Lin, director of the National Museum of Singapore, the restoration of the filmstarring A.N. Alcaff and Netty Herawaticost around Sin$200,000 or almost Rp 1.5 billion. The Indonesia Film Festivals best film of 1955 was known as one of the Father of Indonesian Cinemas masterpieces. The screenplay was written by Asrul Sani, and the topics were considered sensitive matters: corruption, betrayal of the revolution, and neglected ideals. "Its an honest film, one that dared to speak about many sensitive issues of the time, issues that even artists today dont dare to communicate about, said Lee.
What is also interesting is, the film documents the landscape of old Bandung: Braga, Jalan Siliwangi, the Station and Jalan Banceuy. Thanks to the digital restoration, the images from the past were crystal clear.
The aim of restoration, said Davide Pozzi, the director of LImmagine Ritrovata, was to make the film as authentic as possible, not to make it pretty.
Sound had better quality in the restored versiondistinct and coherent. This was no easy job, however. "The restoration techniques were very complex, and took a full one and a half years, said Lisabona Rahman, the former manager of the Kineforum Program. The 36-year-old woman supervised the process in Bologna, Italy, for a week the beginning of this year.
According to Pozzi, the handling of every film differs, making it difficult to compare one to the other. But he said that Usmar Ismails film was very difficult, and was one of the most taxing projects his laboratory had undertaken. All 45 of the labs staff were involved in this project. For the digital cleaning, for example, they needed 1,800 hours or around seven-and-a-half months of work, without a day off.
At first glance, the restoration of this film seemed like it should have been easier because six copies were available, which included the original negative of the film, the duplicate of the negative, the positive duplicate, and the sound negative. The problem was, not all of them were intact. Besides, they were fungus ridden, creased and torn, among other types of damage. "There were 46 reels in total that we sent to Bologna, Lintang Gitomartoyo from Konfiden said.
The restoration began with film checking, and then repair, cleaning with an ultrasound cleaning device, before transforming the film into digital data. "Parts of the film were curled or creased, so automatic transfers were impossible. We had to do it manually, said Lisabona.
The next stage was digital restoration. All of the damage was repaired digitally. One damaged frame was restored using a sample from the previous frame. Faded colors were also restored.
Another challenge was authenticity. "A good restoration product has to respect the filmmakers artistic choices, up to the smallest details, said Pozzi.
For this, the team needed many materials, such as Usmar Ismails other films; other works by the cinematographer of After the Curfew, Max Tera; and films by other directors from the same period. "This is so that they have an idea of the authenticity of the colors, contrast, lighting and even the character of the materials used, the type and brand of the films, for example, said the director of Konfiden, Alex Sihar.
After the Curfew is the first Indonesian film to be fully restored. In 2009, Eye Film Institute, a Dutch film institution, sponsored the restoration of Tiga Dara (Three Girls) by Usmar Ismail from 1956 in Holland, but the economic crisis forced the Dutch government to stop subsidizing the arts, including the foundation that sponsored the restoration of Tiga Dara.
The premiere of After the Curfew at the Cannes Film Festival sparks new hope. Other Indonesian films will be restored. Director of Executive World Cinema Foundation, Kent Jones, admitted his interest in further involvement. He will send a representative to Indonesia to explore the possibility to restore other films.
Sinematek has planned to restore ten films, which include five films by Benyamin Sueb and five films by Rhoma Irama, in a laboratory in India. The fee? This is commercial. "There are companies interested in funding the project, and later they will distribute the products in many forms, said Berthy.
Most of Sinemateks 1,700 films are also waiting to be rescued. Lisabona noted at least 16 films that needed to be prioritized, such as Tengkorak Hidup (Live Skeleton, 1941) by Tan Tjoei Hock, Si Pintjang (The Cripple, 1951) by Kotot Sukardi, Si Melati (Jasmine, 1954) by Basuki Effendi, Djendral Kantjil (The Deer Mouse General, 1958) by Nya Abbas Akup, Bintang Ketjil (Small Star, 1963), Apa Jang Kau Tjari, Palupi? (What are You Looking For, Palupi?, 1969) by Asrul Sani, Matt Dower (1969) by Nya Abbas Akup, Senyum di Pagi Bulan Desember (A Smile in a December Morning, 1974) by Wim Umboh, Yuyun Pasien RS Jiwa (Yuyun, the Patient of a Mental Institute, 1979) by Arifin C. Noer, and Kabut Sutra Ungu (Silken Purple Mist, 1979) by Sjuman Djaya.
The After the Curfew project also inspired a number of cineasts to form Sahabat Sinematek. This organization, says Alex Sihar, "Is geared toward fundraising, to salvage old Indonesian films.
Ging Ginanjar (Cannes)