Judge Kristin Munson doesn't consider an opera Jawa, unless it has an Ewok chorus.
What the hell did I just watch?
There are some films in this world that exist solely to make you feel stupid for watching them. Not because they're terrible or a waste of time, but because they leave you scratching your head and too embarrassed to ask the person next to you what they think, because if they understand it, then you must have the cranial capacity of a small rodent.
Opera Jawa is a musical that's more performance art than performing arts, and where every scene has you wondering what's meant to be real and what's metaphor.
The love triangle at the heart of Opera Jawa is a retelling of a book from Hindu epic, The Ramayana, something that's mentioned many, many times in the lyrics. Setyo and Siti are a young couple, pretty but poor, and Ludiro, a rich butcher, wants Siti for his own. There's an underlying current of social commentary, with the gap between rich and poor flaring into violence, but the movie mainly crawls along as a series of dirge-like love songs and soggy romance.
There are plenty of lovely visuals like a road of ruby silk unfurling to tempt Siti and men wearing bestial masks on the tops of their heads contorting and cavorting like animals, and the occasional up tempo number breaks up the monotony, but what little actual story there is gets lost in the art. Many scenes are set in art installations with actors and dancers trying to work around them while keeping a straight face. I breathed an audible sigh of relief when the running time turned out to be eight minutes shorter than what was printed on the case.
The picture for Opera Jawa is soft and slightly grainy and the white subtitles tend to disappear in brightly lit scenes. The 2.0 stereo is just as underwhelming, especially for a musical. First Run Features throws in the usual DVD-Rom press kit and a discussion guide that asks the kind of questions that you'd expect to see on a 9th grade English test.
Ultimately, Opera Jawa is a foreign film that's too foreign. Unless you're familiar with the subject matter, Indonesian culture, and the gamelan musical tradition, Opera Jawa is long, dull and confusing, with only the occasional bright spot to keep you from going mad.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
• Discussion Guide
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