Urban space and the cinematic city are mutually imbricated in productive ways and for as long as both continue to evolve, expand and diversify, they will thrive and complement one another. In independent cinema, urban space is often envisioned with a focus on the peripheral imaginaries or realities of the everyday citizen. In Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar’s latest film A Copy of My Mind, the camera is placed in the streets of the capital city of Jakarta during the actual disorder surrounding the country’s 2014 presidential election campaign. This was an election campaign that was rife with political corruption in a city with a population that ranks in the world’s top 50 and where its economic growth is moving at a faster pace than Beijing.
With a handheld shaky camera aesthetic, A Copy of My Mind captures the heavy traffic and throngs of people marching through the streets carrying banners with political slogans. This is followed by a scene in the back alleyways where these same citizens are now demanding their day’s wage for having canvassed through Jakarta. Here, the film depicts the downright ugliness of politics and the ways in which civilians are intertwined within the propaganda machine.
Recently, during a post-screening Q&A at the Five Flavours Film Festival in Warsaw, Poland, Anwar revealed that his film marks the first in a trilogy he is planning to produce on Jakarta’s spirit of the mind, heart and soul. Interpreting this first instalment through Anwar’s intentions, I would say that it does emphasise the various political, social and religious ideologies that exist and they overlap with one another in illuminating ways in Jakarta’s cinematic urban setting. However, the filmmaker also professes his dislike for politics. Rather, his method is to understand the unscrupulous behaviour of the political elite through its direct impact on the marginalised individual. This, he accomplishes by starting the film with a conventional romance that transforms into a thriller.
Meet our two protagonists: Sari (Tara Basro) and Alek (Chicco Jerikho). She spends her days providing facial treatments to female clientele at a sub-mediocre salon and lives in a slum dwelling where Muslim morning prayers blare through a megaphone daily. He lives from hand to mouth by producing subtitles for foreign films (increasingly porn) that are then sold on the pirate DVD market and he earns his keep by caring for his elderly landlord. Neither of these protagonists are concerned with the presidential election and they appear to be drifting or simply existing. How Sari and Alek eventually meet is due in part to Sari’s near compulsive fascination with film and more specifically, action films that feature hybrid water creatures. She complains to the DVD shop manager about the poor quality of subtitles and the manager introduces her to this subtitle-maker.
A sizzling romance ensues between these two young drifters. Here, using realist aesthetics, cinematographer Ical Tanjung frames the pair in a kaleidoscope of colour created by the reflection of light bouncing off DVDs pasted to Alek’s bedroom wall. This onscreen chemistry between the actors is palpable and the filmmaker should be credited for his casting choice in an otherwise bare bones production that relies heavily on these two characters to carry the film to its brutal and unforgiving end. The intensification of the romance is matched only by the film’s sudden shift towards violence. This shift occurs as a result of Sari’s naïve yet momentary lapse in judgement during a facial appointment that lands her and her lover in dangerous territory. Her efforts to remedy the situation only increases the gravity of her predicament.
A Copy of My Mind infuses a conventional script with serious issues in contemporary Jakarta society: censorship, extremist beliefs and dirty politics. The film’s strength lies in the way it subtly highlights some of these wide ranging societal problems within Jakarta’s melting pot. It demonstrates a city’s potential to embrace diversity through clever editing by positioning a salacious sex act next to a religious act. It also raises questions about the loss of the family structure. For instance, we know nothing about Sari or Alek’s background. Instead, they rely on each other because there is nobody else.
This is a low-budget production that is deftly handled through a simple but carefully articulated structure. Ultimately, the characters are representative of the widening gap between the marginalised and the elite. While some viewers may find this common narrative in independent cinema and the relationship between Sari and Alek too generic, I believe there is much to be applauded for the filmmaker’s aural and visual attention to urban realities. Overall, Anwar delivers a powerful film in which we as viewers, must endure the excruciatingly painful journey for these disenfranchised city dwellers.
 The second instalment which focuses on a supporting cast member’s life from A Copy of My Mind is in production and is titled Remarkable things during a Killing.
A Copy of My Mind was shown on November 18 and 21 at the Five Flavours Film Festival.