Toilet Blues: Busan Review

The film is an episodic march into adulthood, but it’s a leaden march that’s too familiar to be truly engaging.

Aggressively artistic and achingly static festival fare that says nothing new.

From the cold open beginning involving the movies’ least sexy use of a popsicle, Toilet Blues from Indonesia signals its status as an exemplar of BIFF’s New Currents programming. It has all the hallmarks of a New Currents film — the minimal shots, prosaic action with pretensions to depth and the pacing of a chain link fence going rusty.

The film kicks off with platonic friends Anjani (Shirley Anggranini, whose aggravating haircut signals “rebellious”) and Anggalih (Tim Matindas), or Lih, on the train heading nowhere in particular (of course). She’s run away from home after having her honor besmirched and he’s heading to a seminary to become a monk. Over the course of their trip, Anjani repeatedly tries to seduce the naïve Lih and holds him personally responsible for her happiness and salvation. His response to this is to distance himself from her, both emotionally and physically. On their heels is Ruben (Tio Pakusadewo), a cohort of Anjani’s father whose job it is to keep tabs on her.

Toilet Blues is an episodic march into adulthood, but it’s a leaden march that’s too familiar to be truly engaging. It has its share of tropes that would be best laid to rest, among them the kindly prostitute who exposes Lih to a touch of carnal pleasure and the languid tone that often defines Southeast Asian cinema. The meat of co-writer-director Dirmawan Hatta’s ideas shine through in stilted conversations between the two travelers, which more often than not end with them staring into the distance or her storming off. There are not real revelations or epiphanies, making most of Toilet Blues an exercise in navel-gazing. By the time the delicately symbolic foot washing that closes the film rolls around, it’s hard to recall what came before, and even harder to care.

Window on Asian Cinema 

Cast:  Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgan, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpayee, Amrita Rao 

Director:  Prakash Jha

153 minutes