1. I am grateful to Julia Lesage, Alain J.-J Cohen, and Gaik Cheng Khoo for their suggestions for strengthening this essay. [return to page one]

2. In my interview with Nan Achnas in 2001, she revealed that the film was a way for her to “break the glass ceiling.” In early 2002, the Department of Philosophy, University of Indonesia invited her to participate in a discussion called “Whispering Feminism in Pasir Berbisik.

3. The film won awards for best cinematography and best director in the Asia-Pacific Film Festival (2001). It was also nominated for best film in the Rotterdam International Film Festival (2002).

4. Joko Anwar, “2001 Hints at Signs of Film Industry Recovery,” The Jakarta Post, December 12, 2001.

5. In an Indonesian leading newspaper, Totot Indrarto criticized the film’s unrealistic portrayal of poor people as a result of the middle class perspective of the filmmaker (“Mencari Problem ke Negeri Antah Berantah,” Kompas, September 2, 2001). Since there is no reference to time and place, argues journalist Wilis Pinidji, Pasir Berbisik merely offers a beautiful “poet’s dream” or “a fairy tale from a neverland” with no concern on real issues (“Dongeng Pesisir Antah Berantah.” Gatra, September 3, 2001). Meanwhile, senior critic J.B. Kristanto in a discussion on “Rationalism in Film” (October 3, 2001) claims that although Pasir Berbisik should be read as an allegory, it is flawed because it often contradicts its own logic.

6. The casting of Christine Hakim as the leading female role here confirms the film’s feminist position as she is the most prominent Indonesian senior actress. She has won many awards and sat on the board of the jury of the Cannes Film Festival.

7. Neorealism was introduced in the 1950’s by filmmaker Usmar Ismail to respond to commercial films that failed to portray “the real face of Indonesia” See Salim Said, Shadows of the Silver Screen (Jakarta: The Lontar Foundation, 1991), pp. 53-54.

8. Indonesian New Order era was marked by great audience interest in historical films, many of which are government-funded propaganda films promoting the New Order military ideology.

9. I regard the film as “official” since it was funded by Suharto to commemorate the death of military generals, to demonize communism, and to emphasize the role of the army in replacing the "old" Order after the 30 September 1965 coup. Other than that, representations related to the coup were discouraged. Pengkhianatan G30S was aired annually on the national television until Suharto stepped down in 1998. Studies have shown that the “coup” was staged by the U.S.-sponsored Indonesian military to overthrow Sukarno’s power. More reference on this can be seen in Benedict Anderson and Ruth T. McVey, A Preliminary Analysis of the October 1, 1965, Coup in Indonesia (New York: Modern Indonesia Project, Southeast Asia program, Cornell University, 1971) and Saskia Wieringa, Sexual Politics in Indonesia, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).

10. Krishna Sen, “Film Revolution? Women are Now on Both Sides of the Camera” (Inside Indonesia, July-September 2005

11. Ibu or mother in the New Order period plays an important role in preserving the state power as the one who “looks after her family, a group, a class, a company, or the state without demanding any power or prestige in return” (Madelon Djajadiningrat-Niewenhuis,“Ibuism and Priyayization: Path to Power?,” in Elseth Locher-Scholten and Anke Niehofs, eds, Indonesian Women in Focus: Past and Present Notions (Dordrecht: Foris, 1987).

12. The shadow puppet image accompanied by Javanese music shown at the beginning of the film also echoes Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), the first international film set in 1965 Indonesia. Both films associate shadow puppetry with violence (either by the state or patriarchy), but while Weir’s film revolves around Western characters in the turbulent Jakarta, Achnas focuses on marginalized women living outside the capital city who are nonetheless affected by the coup.

13. Tayub is a social dance from Java known for its sensuality and is often associated with prostitution. In this dance, female dancers usually ask the male audience to join them on stage. The dance can involve a lot of touching, and after the performance, it is common that men still want to pay to get more than just a dance. [return to page 2]

14. A film about Tayub dancer called Nji Ronggeng was made in 1969. Challenging Mulvey’s conception of male gaze, David Hanan argues that Nji Ronggeng presents a female dancer who does not let her body become objectified visually by male characters on screen. However, he also points out that at the narrative level, the film has to compromise with the New Order gender ideology, resulting in a clichéd resolution in which the protagonist chooses to be a homemaker.

15. Traditional Javanese clothing for women.

16. Eric Sasono in his article, "Single-Parent pada Sinema Indonesia,” does not specifically indicate the changing role of the mother in Indonesian cinema. However, he observes how the ideal family ideology consisting of a father, a mother, and two children promoted during the Suharto era was challenged by single-parent characters in the post-Suharto films.

17. While produced and co-written by women, Eliana Eliana was directed by male director Riri Riza. Riza, who made Kuldesak with Achnas, always engage with such themes as generation gap and gender instability. Two of his internationally acclaimed films, Eliana Eliana and Gie, subtly represent homoeroticism in addition to the main plot foregrounding characters who challenge paternal/ state authority.


Anwar, Joko. “2001 Hints at Signs of Film Industry Recovery.” Jakarta: The Jakarta Post, December 12, 2001.

De Lauretis, Teresa. Technologies of Gender. Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 1987.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

Djajadiningrat-Nieuwenhuis, Madelon. “Ibuism and Priyayization: Path to Power?” In Elseth Locher-Scholten and Anke Niehofs, eds. Indonesian Women in Focus: Past and Present Notions. Dordrecht: Foris, 1987

Grosz, Elizabeth. Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction. London: Routledge, 1990.

Hanan, David. “Nji Ronggeng: Another Paradigm for Erotic Spectacle in the Cinema.” In Virginia Matheson Hooker, ed. Culture and Society in New Order Indonesia. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1995, pp 87-115.

Indrarto, Totot. “Mencari Problem ke Negeri Antah Berantah.” Kompas, September 2, 2001.

Kristanto, J.B. ”Film Indonesia dan Akal Sehat.” Kompas, September 7, 2001.

Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1977.

_____. Feminine Sexuality. Trans. Jacqueline Rose. New York: Norton, 1982.

Mulvey, Laura. Visual and Other Pleasures. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989.

Sasono, Eric. “’Single Parent’ Pada Sinema Indonesia.” Kompas, May 29, 2005.

Said, Salim. Shadows of the Silver Screen. Jakarta: The Lontar Foundation, 1991.

Sen, Krishna. Indonesian Cinema: Framing the New Order. London & New Jersey: Zed Book Ltd., 1994.

_____. “Film Revolution? Women are Now on Both Sides of the Camera.” Inside Indonesia, July-September 2005

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