Director - Joko Anwar
A weird and wonderful puzzle of a psychological thriller.
This pioneer film, the subject of religious protest and attempted censorship in its homeland, is apparently the first psychological thriller to come out of Indonesia, ever. It is definitely a film that, regardless of context, as soon as it finishes you feel the urge to watch it again to figure out just what exactly is going on.
Gambir is a successful sculptor, specializing in pregnant women, with a beautiful girlfriend and a giant house. But, all is not quite right in paradise. Gambir is unhappy with his life, and arguing with his girlfriend, who has kept a huge secret. There is a locked door she has kept hidden from him in their house. She begs him not to enter, "there are some things you can't show anyone." He has also started receiving anonymous messages, all that is written, "help me". These messages come thick and fast, and his perfect life begins to unravel. He follows the trail to a mysterious building, Herosase, where he discovers their origin; a boy being severely abused by his parents. Gambir becomes obsessed and on his mission to rescue the boy finds that those close to him have all been keeping their own secrets.
Fachri Albar, playing Gambir, is excellent in the lead role. His fall from genius it boy, to paranoid wreck is believable and engaging. He draws your attention and is a strong screen presence, charismatic but with a vulnerability. Taylda, Marsha Timothy is superb as well. An ominous man at an abortion clinic warns Gambir that your wife is your enemy and Timothy gets this just right, creating a lingering mistrust that boils over as the film reaches its conclusion. As they stand hugging in front of the forbidden door of the title, you can see the unease on Gambir's face and you know that things are not going to end well for the two of them.
The film looks great and has a real style, and a real creepiness to it. The sculpting room where Gambir works, looks like Dr Frankenstein's laboratory if he was a midwife. It's shadowy and sinister, with pregnant statues with their stomachs sawed off lying around. Just outside are white picket fences, a perfect green lawn and velvet red roses. The contrast works well and illustrates the difference between what we project to the outside world and what we hide on the inside. The hidden camera scenes of domestic violence are unnerving, forcing us to participate in the twisted voyeurism of the Herosase. It makes for uncomfortable viewing and forces you to absorb what is being shown to you.
Joko Anwar lists among his favourite directors, David Kronenberg and Kinji Fukusaku and you can certainly see this in the finale. There is some Kubrick in there as well, you feel sure that Gambir is going to scream, "here's Johnny" axe in hand. The violence is handled with aplomb and relish. Anwar in introducing the film said that, "what you see is love splashed up on the screen", that may be, but there's a lot else splashed up there as well. It is undeniably graphic and shocking but with a playfulness. The tranquil, easy-listening music jars perfectly with the b-movie carnage, leaving you not sure whether to laugh or shut your eyes. Whatever influences there may or may not be, the film has a fresh, dream/nightmare-like originality.
As the credits roll you are left with plenty of questions, attempting to come up with the answers. The film leaves subtle clues and hints throughout for us to try and work things out, hotel doors and fortune cookies amongst them. At its heart The Forbidden Door is a Rubix cube of a film, something we are supposed to take our time with, ponder over and piece together. An intelligent, challenging and unusual film.
Exclusive English coverage of the Q and A session that followed the film will be up shortly.