The Blindfold (Mata Tertutup): Film Review

The Blindfold Film Still - H 2012
A sobering look at blooming religious fanaticism in Indonesia.

Award-winning Indonesian actress Jajang C. Noer stars in veteran director Garin Nugroho's topical drama about topical drama about religious extremism.

The visual excesses of Garin Nugroho’s best-known film, the kaleidoscopic stunner Opera Jawa, are cast aside as the Indonesian auteur tells a topical, no-frills tale about the religious extremism sweeping his country.

The Blindfold, a low-budget drama using mostly non-professional actors, represents a departure for the veteran director as it follows a simple, linear narrative arc geared toward quiet education rather than senses-dazzling artiness. It’s affecting in an understated way and makes for an instructive inclusion on the festival circuit.

Nugroho and scriptwriter Tri Sasongko used research from Indonesia’s leading moderate Islamic organization, the Maarif Institute, to fashion three intercut stories warning of the threat presented by Islamic fundamentalist groups’ clandestine recruitment of suggestible adolescents.

Broke, disillusioned and vulnerable, Jabir (M. Dinu Imansyah) is forced to quit school due to lack of funds and turns to a radical prayer group looking for a life purpose. Meanwhile, Rima (Eka Nusa Pertiwi), a resourceful recruiter for the banned extremist sect Negara Islam Indonesia (NII) becomes disenchanted with the organization after knocking against its glass ceiling, and Asimah (award-winning Indonesian actress Jajang C. Noer) desperately searches for her missing daughter, Ainsi, who has been kidnapped by the fanatics.

The aggressiveness of the NII’s recruitment techniques is particularly chilling – Rima talks of rounding up “sheep” – as is their target: disenfranchised teenagers and students who are often abducted and made to wear blindfolds on their way to be indoctrinated.

Despite being shot on location in just nine days under surveillance by the country’s head of counter-terrorism, The Blindfold is short-changed not a whit on style, with Nugroho mixing  it up with a variety of high-angle shots, extreme close-ups and long takes.

It’s a serious and sobering work by a director whose past reliance on symbolism and aesthetics has often masked a sociopolitical message.

Production company: SET Film
Cast: Jajang C. Noer, Adriani Isna, Eka Nusa Pertiwi, M. Dinu Imansyah
Director: Garin Nugroho
Screenwriter: Tri Sasongko
Producers: Asaf Antarksa, Endang Tirtana
Executive producers: Garin Nugroho, Fajar Riza Ul Haq
Director of photography: Anggi Frisca
Production design: Nanang Rakhmat
Music: Dwiki Dharmawan
Editor: Beck
No MPAA rating, 90 minutes