'Another Trip to the Moon' ('Menuju rembulan'): Rotterdam Review

Courtesy of International Film Festival Rotterdam
Fancifully figurative feminist fable

Ismail Basbeth's mystical Indonesian fantasy premiered in the Dutch festival's main competition

Indonesian myths are updated via the magic of widescreen digital in director/co-writer Ismail Basbeth's quietly beguiling debut Another Trip to the Moon (Menuju rembulan). Accessibly exotic in its initial evocations of a timeless idyll, the picture throws a couple of bold narrative curve-balls as it builds—haltingly—towards a satisfying, enigmatic finale. One of the more noteworthy entrants in a generally underwhelming Tiger competition at Rotterdam this year, this wordless central segment of an ambitious multi-media project involving a music-album, illustrated book and various supplementary artworks appeals as a solid choice for festivals receptive to quality lo-fi world cinema.

The screenplay—co-written by Basbeth and B.W. Purba Negra—almost entirely dispenses with dialogue, apart from a handful of whispery and unsubtitled incantations. But it's not hard to work out what's going on. Early stretches depict a pair of graceful lovers—identified in the credits as Asa (Tara Basro) and Laras (Ratu Anandita)—enjoying an idealized, atavistic hunter-gathering lifestyle in a placid forest, with Asa particularly handy with a bow-and-arrow.

Satria Kurnianto's 2.35:1 visuals veer a little towards the excessively lush; panoramic images of sun-dappled leaves and luxuriously-maned ladies conjure some unwelcome echoes of shampoo commercials. But after a quite literal bolt from the blue shatters Asa and Laras' bond around the 20-minute mark, proceedings—hitherto having progressed with a certain languid nonchalance—take a turn towards the weird.

Various masked 'dancers', presumably representing forest critters, pop up; Asa's mother (Endang Sukeksi) is glimpsed carrying out elaborate rituals in what's evidently a 21st century home; a black dog incrementally assumes human form. Just before the hour mark Another Trip to the Moon takes a second leap into unexpected territory, as Asa returns "home" and seemingly settles down to married life—her beefy husband (Cornelio Sunny) none other than the canine shapeshifter. Time clicks forward, and Asa, despite the joys of motherhood, finds herself drawn back to her previous existence with Laras...

Moving between reality, fantasy, dream, hallucination and symbolic representation, Basbeth crafts a strangely alluring form of sensual fairy-tale in which quotidian objects and places take on magical qualities. It's essentially a character-study of the impassively self-possessed Asa, with Basro seldom off-screen as a young woman capable of moving between epochs with a natural, animal poise.

Transitioning from shorts to bigger canvases for the first time, Basbeth isn't yet as elegant as his resilient heroine, however, At times clunkily laborious and at others ethereally fleet-of-foot, Another Trip to the Moon requires patience and indulgence on the part of the viewer, but there's enough here that's distinctive and resonant to repay attention and investment. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

Production companies: Bosan Berisik Lab, Hide Project Films, Super-8mm Studio
Cast: Tara Basro, Ratu Anandita, Cornelio Sunny, Endang Sukeksi, Mila Rosinta Totoatmojo
Director: Ismail Basbeth
Screenwriters: Ismail Basbeth, B.W.Purba Negara
Producers: Ismail Basbeth, Suryo Wiyogo, Andhy Pulung
Cinematographer: Satria Kurnianto
Production designer / Costume designer: Hananda Hutami Putri
Editor: Dwi Agus Purwanto
Composer: Charlie Meliala
Sales: Hide Project Films, Jakarta
No Rating, 82 minutes