Cannes-winning filmmaker Wregas Bhanuteja’s Photocopier is an Indonesian neo-noir that examines taboo subjects wrapped inside a riveting mystery.
This review of the Netflix film Photocopier does not contain spoilers.
Photocopier, the Netflix Indonesian thriller, focuses on Suryani (Shenina Syawalita Cinnamon), who everyone calls “Sur” for short. She is a student who is part of her school’s theatre company in Jakarta. Her group has just been admitted into a prestigious competition. Not only does Sur act, but she also designed the troupe’s website that has helped them get noticed. Unfortunately for Sur, her father (Lukman Sardi) thinks she should be focusing her interests on becoming a lawyer or a doctor. Also, why waste time “acting” when she should be working their family’s deli.
She is a bit sheltered. Even a little naive. But her friends want her to break out of her shell a bit. So they invite her to the party celebrating their group’s victory — something her father disapproves of. She was supposed to leave by 8 pm but refused to go home with Amin (Chicco Kurniawan). The next thing she remembers, she woke up at home. She showed up late for her scholarship review, but if that wasn’t bad enough, someone found pictures that were posted on her social media page.
These photos show Suryani passed out, presumably from being inebriated, a taboo subject in Indonesian culture. The result is that she loses her scholarship, is kicked out of school and her own home by her family. She now, with the help of Amin, decides to reverse the tables by hacking into computers, phones, tablets to piece together what actually happened to her that night.
Photocopier was written and directed by Wregas Bhanuteja, whose short film, Prenjak, was the first Indonesian film to win an award at the prestigious Cannes film festival. In his first feature film, he develops a wonderful sense of storytelling and building suspense, while folding in influential cultural themes. Bhanuteja does so well in examining cultural taboos by taking a closer look at when many refuse to acknowledge they exist.
The use of Eastern versus Western influence, which has had the country under a cloud of oppression for centuries under colonialism, is evident here that elevates his film above the standard genre mystery. Indonesia has continually fought for its independence and to not be controlled. While Sur’s father represents Eastern values, his daughter represents a Western ideology, which causes conflict. All of the influence by foreign nations has caused disputes among a group of people that is more incredibly diverse in culture and religion in the first place.
Then, there’s Bhanuteja’s strong eye for beautiful and evocative imagery. For example, the use of yellow is used to symbolize fear, which ends up evoking courage. You then have the recurring fumigation in Jakarta. This is a metaphor for government oppression and influence under cover from the “light” that keeps issues in the “dark.”The fumigation represents a cloud of oppression. This can take on many forms on different levels in his film, from cultural subjugation and government suppression to sexism.
Yet, for the meaningful themes and stunning visuals, Photocopier works as a taut mystery Indonesian neo-noir. I would even draw comparisons to an American film, Rian Johnson’s Brick. Like that film, Photocopier has a sinister mystery inside its shadowy, black and green lighting and exterior. Bhanuteja’s film, like the color itself that is forbidden, shines a light on verboten subjects. He tells a story in a compulsively watchable way that brings his vision of resiliency to light.
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