An Astronaut Named Siman
The Science of Fictions created by Yosep Anggi Noen belongs to the World Focus category at the Tokyo International Film Festival. A political trauma theme is presented through a unique idea.
THE tongue of Siman was cut off. He was unable to recount a big secret he had witnessed that night. A group of people, in 1966, on the sand dunes of Parangkusumo Beach, Bantul, Yogyakarta, were constructing a set resembling an outer space arena. Amid bushes, Siman was peeking. The unidentified people later conducted a film shooting as if there had been a landing of the first man on the moon.
Siman was captured. He was tortured and had his tongue sliced off. He got mute all his life. Up to 2019, he undergoes the trauma of his torture. He continues to be haunted by the rocket, moon and astronaut. This makes his body movement slow down when walking, as if he were in a zero gravity space.
Everywhere, in the village, the places where he works as a laborer—from the tractor plant in Kulon Progo to the market—even in the brothel, Siman has always been walking with his seemingly floating feet. In a shady yard—the film shooting took place in the Kaliduren, Moyudan, Sleman, Yogyakarta—Siman built a shelter for daily use from zinc and junks that he shaped like a spacecraft. From the ‘rocket’, he has frequently attended wedding parties, watched jatilan (horse dance) and visited other places by wearing his helmet with the box of astronaut equipment on his back.
Obviously, the idea of Yosep Anggi Noen is quite unexpected. The period of 1965-1966 was the gloomy time of our history. There were so many victims of murder. Kidnappings, persecutions and incarcerations were widespread. Nevertheless, the theme around the incident has rarely been adopted in films. Anggi Noen wishes to reflect this period, but in a way quite different from most others. It is by allegorical means.
Anggi’s film is not the kind that narratively presents clear causality so that the audience can get a strong line of logical scenes. Anggi tends to handle the whole film through an impressive outlook and poetic pretension. The scene of tongue cutting that becomes a clue, for instance, is only shown at a glance. “Many killings in 1966 emerged as rumors. This is the reason why I offer many key scenes in a vague manner. The scene of the shooting of man’s landing on the moon on Parangkusumo Beach executed by NASA or any other unknown agency is also depicted in a mysterious way,” said Anggi.
Film director Yosep Anggi Noen and his fans at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2019./Tempo
Indeed, the scene of the orchestrated shooting of moon landing as the opening of The Science of Fictions only appears for several minutes. Even this is just in the perspective of Siman’s peeping eyes in the dark. The scene does not sufficiently make us aware of what has actually happened. In fact, this is the important opening scene as the cause of all the film’s sequences. Unsurprisingly, in the question-and-answer session after the film’s screening none of the Japanese audience asked about the ‘NASA’ orchestration in Parangkusumo. It was possibly because the beginning scene ‘escaped their notice’—just fleeting away.
The entire memory of Siman is made indistinct and in a flash. There are actually some scenes that if they were handled in detail can help the audience imagine how the ‘madness’ and trauma experienced by Siman have so deeply affected him, which involves Siman’s ‘rocket house’. In the film, the audience only sees Siman frequently sleep in a weird ‘junk craft’. No scenes show how Siman ‘insanely’ collects discarded articles and assembles them piece by piece into a ‘rocket’, which is later occupied as if he were in outer space. The movie may be better perceived if such scenes are included.
Siman is played by Gunawan Maryanto, a Teater Garasi actor who had the role of poet Wiji Thukul in Anggi’s previous picture, Istirahatlah Kata-kata (Take a Rest, Words). Gunawan in that film portraying the flight of Wiji Thukul to Kalimantan has only a few dialogues. In The Science of Fictions, he plays Siman without speech at all.
Besides Cindil—Gunawan’s nickname—Anggi cast Yudi Tajudin and Komar, also actors of Teater Garasi. Musical illustration was conducted by Japanese composer Yasuhiro Morinaga, also known to be often collaborating with Teater Garasi. Lighting was in the hands of Teoh Gay Hian, who has recurrently worked with Garin Nugroho for his films. The many ‘dark’ scenes with minimum but artistic illumination are certainly due to the camera perspective and lighting of Teoh Gay Hian.
Anggi felt the need to feature a figure with clothing and attributes like those of Sukarno (played by Ecky Lamoh). This figure at the start of the movie appears as a strong man that can halt the orchestrated shooting in Parangkusumo. Ecky, who is rather stout, with long hair, wearing a cap and jacket full of emblems, is posed—in a room like a bunker—as a frequent viewer of video recordings of the orchestration. “I have often seen people in various cities behaving like Sukarno. They wear and collect Sukarno’s memorabilia and are acting oddly. They pretend to be leaders,” said Anggi.
What may be a bit confusing for the spectators are the ages of the film characters. In the beginning scene, assumed to occur in the 1960s, when Siman’s tongue was cut off, he was then, say, about 20. So was the character played by Yudi Tajudin, a village figure wary of being chased by soldiers or intelligence officers and hiding along with Siman. But when they appear again in 2019, their faces remain the same. There are no signs of aging whatsoever.
Anggi allowed no makeup to turn the faces of Siman and others older. So is the case with the strong man behaving like Sukarno. When he emerges today, his face is unchanged although he no longer wears Sukarno’s attributes. “I purposely let them go that way. No aging. I want the cinema to be a medium that confuses time. It is fiction in fiction. It is my offer. In my view, memories are not aging. Memories do not appear chronologically,” said Anggi.
This film is indeed a play between fiction, fact and an idea. It is not that type of film intended to present all scenes in strictly realist logic. It should be admitted that Anggi Noen is bold enough to create a film in such a style. This may explain why the curators of the Tokyo International Film Festival, Yoshi Yatabe and Kenji Ishizaka, have included The Science of Fictions prestigiously in the section of World Focus, sharing the same group as that of prestigious movies like While at War by Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar and Ghost Town Anthology by Canadian director Denis Côté.
The final part of The Science of Fictions is in my opinion actually powerful. It is especially when Siman in his astronaut suit is asked to dance at a wedding party, also when Siman in the same costume join the dancing jatilan troupe. The scenes seemingly become a ‘catharsis’ of the series of previous scenes.
Indirectly, through this picture Anggi also wishes to reflect the history of the camera. Anggi wants to show how in the 1960s the camera is an exclusive and expensive gadget that was not owned by anybody. Here the state frequently utilized the camera for orchestration and propaganda purposes. “In the hands of the state, the camera of the past served as a means of the truth and the lies. At present, with the camera of a cell phone, everybody can make the truth and the lies,” said Anggi.
This film is ended with a group of children joyfully riding odong-odong (carriages), passing the forest where Siman’s ‘spacecraft’ was built. The carriage comes to a halt. The kids are jumping and taking out their cell phones. Click. They take the picture of the object in front of them not visible on the film screen. We may think they are photographing Siman and his rocket. “But take a look, the kids’ phones are directed at spectators. They actually take the picture of the audience. I wish to say that we all may also be the other Simans. We are Simans who refrain from talking about tabooed political matters,” said Anggi.
It is an interesting ending. The film whose production cost was jointly borne by several producers of Indonesia, France and Malaysia was first screened in August at the Locarno International Film Festival, Switzerland. “From Tokyo, my film will be shown at the festival in Los Angeles. There are 15 festivals until the middle of next year that will screen this Siman film,” added Anggi. The astronaut from Parangkusumo is traveling around the world.
Seno Joko Suyono (Tokyo)