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The emotional life of a young girl and how she copes with the impending death of her twin brother is the wisp of narrative that underpins writer-director Kamila Andini’s The Seen and Unseen, the follow-up to the filmmaker’s first, equally insightful award winner, The Mirror Never Lies. An exemplar of visual storytelling, Unseen also gives voice to the frequently voiceless: children, and girls in particular, and their emotional lives. The film’s languid pace and immersion in the sights and sounds of nature — wind, water, rustling leaves, insects — will draw immediate comparisons to Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), but in just two outings Andini has forged her own singular style and language, and she’s proven particularly adept at understanding children. The Seen and Unseen will have a long festival life, and could also find a place at women- and kid-focused events.
The film starts with 10-year-old Tantra (Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena) being rolled into a hospital ward, unconscious, as his twin sister Tantri (Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih) and her mother (Ayu Laksmi) watch helplessly. Tantra has a tumor-like growth pressing on his nervous system, which is shutting down his body, one limb and one sense at a time. He is dying. Andini then takes a quick peek into the kids’ lives pre-hospitalization, and we get a hint at how close the siblings really were.
That’s it for story, as the rest of the film patiently follows Tantri as she dives deeper and deeper into a dream world every night, one where Tantra is just fine. In her dreams, she and Tantra share songs, dances, dress up in vibrant traditional costumes and play games, often incorporating elements Tantri encounters in her waking life, with each shared moment almost a negative reflection of Tantra’s downward spiral in reality. Tantri is simultaneously reveling in the bond she shares with Tantra, and honoring her (soon to be) late brother’s life.
The Seen and Unseen is loaded with images and symbols of new life (there are a lot of eggs) yet there’s something intensely authentic in Andini’s interpretation of how children deal with trauma, how they cope with stress and how they mourn. Despite the subject matter, the film is neither bleak nor hopeless, and aggressively exploits the lush environment in which it’s set; Anggi Frisca’s vibrant camera work makes the most of Indonesia’s natural beauty and the promise it holds.
However, without newcomer Kasih as Tantri, The Seen and Unseen wouldn’t be half as affecting as it is. The story is told entirely from her point of view and would fall apart with a less gently moving central performance. Kasih’s naturalistic turn balances childlike perplexity with mature understanding in perfect measure, and she makes Tantri heartbreaking without being maudlin. An impressive debut in an impressive sophomore effort.
Production company: Treewater, Fourcolours Films
Cast: Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih, Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena, Ayu Laksmi, Ketut Riina, Happy Salma
Director: Kamila Andini
Screenwriter: Kamila Andini
Producer: Gita Fara, Kamila Andini
Executive producer: Garin Nugroho, Trismo, Anggi Frisca, Retno Ratih Damayanti, Eba Sheba, Vida Sylvia, Yasuhiro Morinaga
Director of photography: Anggi Frisca
Production designer: Vida Sylvia
Costume designer: Retno Ratih Damayanti
Editor: Dinda Amanda, Dwi Agus
Music: Yasuhiro Morinaga
World sales: Cercamon
In Balinese and Indonesian
No rating, 86 minutes
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