This movie was made in the late 70's, we were reminded halfway through the Q&A. 'Women in Indonesia then weren't expected to voice out,' Hendrick Gozali, the illustrious Indonesian producer, said. Male figures were not to be challenged. The thought itself was indecent for women.
So goes the thread in the movie 'Wanita dalam Pasungan' (Shackled Woman), a movie from 1980 screened as part of the Indonesian Film Festival. Fitria, a Javanese girl from Jogjakarta, is put under pasungan by her father to lift her insanity. He locks her away for years until a nosy Jakartan reporter discovers her existence and convinces her to tell her story.
She lived in Jakarta in domestic bliss with husband Andy and children. Until an old friend arrived.
Marni's arrival in the city sparked Fitria's jealousy. Marni and Andy's intimacy soon became the neighbourhood's gossip fare, creating doubts in Fitria's mind. 'Why shouldn't he like Marni?' Fitria imagined, 'she's prettier, she's more tender, she makes a better wife.'
A letter found in Andy's shirt pocket brought thing to a head. Unwilling to confront her husband, Fitria gave in to black magic as a solution. A few drops of penawar was all it was going to take to make Marni forget Andy, but not long after she dies.
Believing that she killed Marni, Fitria started having psychotic episodes. Her father came over from Jogja and challenged her to eat dung to prove her sanity, which she does as her ultimate rebellion against her father.
Women have voices, Men have hearts
There were many points in the movie where I felt that not much has changed, if at all. The housewives' suburban conversations could've been lifted from an episode of Desperate Housewives. Conspiratorial and ever distrustful of their men, they tire themselves sharing notes with each other than working out their issues with the husbands.
Have men changed? There's no definite answer to that. But in Fitria's case, she had beside her a caring, considerate and sympathic husband, who never stopped trying to find out what bothered her. Does she respond in kind? No. Instead she stonewalls, not even allowing herself a chance to see how good a husband Andy really is.
This is the real tragedy in this tale. It isn't the years after she spends shackled, or that her children grew up without a mother; it's the fact that society's expectations on women won out even in situations where it was ridiculous.
This was a cautionary tale in 1980 when the movie was first released. It's just as timely today.
Could that be why Mr Gozali chose this film out of many to be featured in this years Indonesian Film Festival?