Madame X: Film Review

Madame X still - H 2012
Eriek Juragan/Kalyana Shira Films

Madame X still - H 2012

Crazy-camp super-transgender fantasy dresses to thrill.

Featuring a transvestite superheroine who fights gender bigotry with deadly dance steps, the fantasy-parody is spiced with Indonesian folk culture.

HONG KONG – Imagine Austin Powers suddenly coming out of the closet, acquiring a flamboyant drag wardrobe and kicking the butts of homophobic (but suavely-suited) fascists. That only partially describes what kind of alternative escapist kitsch Madame X is.

Featuring a transvestite superheroine who fights gender bigotry and female exploitation with deadly dance steps, the fantasy-parody is influenced by The Adventures of Iron Pussy co-directed by Apichatpong Weerasethekul’s and Michael Shaowanasai. On top of that, it is spiced up with Indonesian pop and folk culture, and a lot more crazy-bitchiness. For a debut feature, Lucky Kuswandi’s direction is generally assured. He may have to rein in his showy technique and excessive visual style, but he keeps up the zesty, comic momentum amidst chaotic plot developments.

Wearing its gay pride on its frilly sleeve, the film’s barely veiled jibes at religious fundamentalists might cook up a scandal in its native land and other conservative societies, but it will bring a smile to LGBT festivals and midnight sidebars. Serious cineastes will scoff but fashionistas will be stimulated to rush out for a shopping spree. 

Adam (Amink) is a transvestite hairdresser living a modest but fulfilling life when on his birthday, three strange women sporting haute couture and bombshell bouffant hairstyles descend on his salon to foreshadow his downfall – if he dances. Sure enough, at a nightclub, he and his drag entourage are kidnapped by Mr. Storm (Marcel Siahaan) and his henchmen from the right-wing, homophobic moral brigade Gogem. 

Adam is rescued by Rudi (Robby Tumewu) and his transsexual wife Yantje (Ria Irawan), and joins their dance troupe Beyond the Clouds. Before long, he has mastered the ancient Lenggok dance, against the warning of the harpies-in-Hermes. While protecting his dance partner Ratih from her shifty fiancé Tarjo, Adam takes on a human trafficking syndicate and comes “chest-to-chest” with Mr Storm.

In between, flashbacks to Adam’s childhood are represented in classic chapter style. They recount his friendship and thwarted love for classmate Harun. Narrated in a mock-soppy tone, their relationship evolves into something genuinely poignant and moving. Matchstick figured Amink’s puckish expressions are an instant rib-tickler. But even more endearing is the love between Rudi and Yantje, which rings truer than straight romances in rom-coms. 

Based on a character Amink created, Madame X’s fashion-obsession is not only the source of numerous gags, it’s a tongue-in-cheek exultation of vanity and excess that finds expression in the silly finale – where pastel croco-handbags become lethal weapons and a hair-curler can be an instrument of torture. However, the film’s serious plea for tolerance of alternative lifestyles is more memorable because it is sugar-coated in tomfoolery and jest.

The bling is blinding in both art direction, set design and of course, costumes. Color palette takes the Rainbow concept to its extreme, using the whole color spectrum to most glaring effect. Kuswandi demonstrates his ability to shoot action and dance with flair and raciness. His shortcoming is eagerness to use every trick in the book when it comes to camerawork and editing, resulting in many scenes of MTV vacuity.

Venue: Asia Film Awards
Sales: Kalyana Shira Films
Kalyana Shira Films in association with EZY Productions, Indika Pictures present a Happy Ending Pictures production
Cast: Amink, Marcell Siahaan, Robby Tumewu, Ria Irawan, Joko Anwar, Shanty, Titi Dj, Sarah Sechan
Director- screenwriter: Lucky Kuswandi
Screenwriters: Khalid Kashogi, Agasyah Karim
Based on a character created by Amink
Producer: Nia Dinata
Executive producer: Djie Tjianan, Kristuadji Legopranowo, Otto Djauhari, Constantin Papadimitriou
Director of photography: Roni Arnold
Production designer: Eros Elfin
Music: Aghi Narcottama, Bemby Gusti, Mondo Gascaro
Costume designer: Tania Soeprapto, Isabelle Patrice
Editor: Robin Moran
No rating, 100 minutes