Director: Nico Susilo & Lliam Bittle
Writer: Nico Susilo & Sandy Allifiansyah
Cast: Dwi Riana, Liza Carmila, Zizi Indra
Running time: 13mins
Deciphering the meaning of international films within their historical and social contexts is enough of a challenge, without them adopting a highly unusual avant-garde mode of delivery. I therefore must preface my review of Kecut with the admission that I do not know very much about Indonesian history, or its contemporary culture and politics – and may well have missed some crucial details while trying to interpret it.
From my English background, cubed pineapple chunks are synonymous with kids’ parties, so to me the film’s opening scenario strikes me as the world’s most lacklustre birthday celebration. Felicia (Liza Carmila) sits upright at a drab dinner table, the beige walls behind her only decorated with very old pictures of presumably deceased family members. Meanwhile, her partner Anton (Zizi Indra) and his friend Satria (Dwi Riana) sit either side of her, silently staring at a ripened pineapple. As a protracted silence hangs in the air, and the tension ratchets up, however, it becomes clear that something more serious is going on here – albeit in the most stilted, Wes Anderson-ish way possible.
Anton pushes the pineapple across the table to Satria, avoiding eye-contact with Felicia entirely, and mumbles about ‘not making the pieces too big’. He then whispers something to Satria before they head to the kitchen to chop the fruit up, as if his girlfriend sitting two feet away will be unable to hear it over the crackling radio silence that fills the air. She angrily asks them not to whisper, and implores them to get on with it – something audiences will relate to at this stage of the excruciatingly slow scene – because she doesn’t even like pineapple.
As the plan awkwardly unfolds, it transpires nobody here is eating the delicious fruit for pleasure – rather out of an entirely misguided sense of necessity. Abortion for non-emergency purposes carries a four-year prison sentence in Indonesia – and apparently all the characters are convinced that eating pineapple can cause miscarriages. As pregnancy out of wedlock is looked down upon in Indonesian society, and none of the trio are in wedlock, they have come to the desperate conclusion that they need to gorge on fruit to avoid being publicly shamed, and socially disadvantaged.
By the end of the increasingly angry dining session that ensues, the rigid belief any of it will work has been deployed not only to expose the deteriorating state of one relationship on display, but to expose another which is beginning to flourish. In doing so, Nico Susilo and Sandy Allifiansyah’s script seamlessly works beliefs around gender identity into the story, without treating it as a token issue – rather, as a simple fact of life.
Dwi Riana’s character, Satria, has identified as a man throughout the film, using he/him pronouns. When refusing to eat the pineapple for fear of impacting his own pregnancy, he maintains this identity. It is not treated as a big reveal or a contradiction – and Felicia’s only issue with the revelation is that it also means her partner has been unfaithful to her.
What all this does is conjure up a complex and contradictory picture of Indonesian life which is worth commending. On the one hand, it shows a generation of people who have in some ways moved beyond the ideological trappings of wider society and previous generations. But on the other hand, as those sepia images on the wall make clear, the scowling spirits of their ancestors still loom over them, holding them back from their own happiness, and insisting they hold on to other nonsensical and harmful social practices at all costs. (It is worth noting, those practices and sensibilities are at least partially born out of the fear and shame instilled in Indonesia by the country’s colonial era – and the crimes Indonesians were subjected to by Dutch ‘civilising’ forces bent on imposing European values on them, as well as the brutality the US went on to inflict on the country when it tried to move away from those values.)
It is debatable whether Kecut’s absurd, almost quirky tone is entirely appropriate when handling the country’s use of shame, fear and brutality to ensure its dominant ideological structures go unchallenged. But that is exactly what political satires in the West do too.
Admittedly, as an outsider looking in, some of the humour of Kecut might be lost on me here. Perhaps it isn’t meant to be humorous at all? What I will say is that it takes courage to address the issues it tackles at all, when they are not considered the norm – and even more so when there are legal and social threats at play for contradicting the status-quo. In that case, Kecut may or may not be an oddity, but I would argue it is an oddity which the world is better for having.