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Entries in Asia Pacific Screen Awards (1)

Wednesday
Nov292017

THE SEEN AND UNSEEN

Stars: Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih, Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena, Ayu Laksmi, I Ketut Rina, Happy Salma and Gusti Ayu Raka.
Writer/Director: Kamila Andini

WINNER: Best Youth Feature Film, 2017 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

Rating: 4.5/5

The slow dissolution through mortality of the physical bond that twins share only serves to strengthen the spiritual and emotional resonance of their union in Kamila Andini’s quietly devastating The Seen and Unseen. Drawing upon Balinese lore that embraces an existential duality called Sekala Niskala, the Indonesian writer-director crafts a profoundly moving narrative that recalls Niki Caro’s Whale Rider in its depiction of innocence, tradition and destiny colliding.

A natural progression of the themes of youthful sadness and the strength needed to cope that she explored in The Mirror Never Lies (2011), Andini’s second feature glides between a family’s real-world heartbreak and one sibling’s soaring fantasy world. Tantri (Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih) and her brother Tantra (Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena) live a life of perfect harmony in rural Bali, until Tantra wanders away from his sister and the living world one day; the boy has a brain tumour and slips into a coma, his days now spent prone and silent on a hospital bed.

Tantri’s life is now half the existence she has ever known, yet she refuses to deny herself or her brother the richness of their shared imagination. The young woman defies the trauma of a fading soul mate by engaging with her brother’s still-buoyant spirit; the pair indulges in traditional costume dancing, shadow theatre puppetry and rice planting, the daily activities that once brought them so much joy. Andini seamlessly melds the real and conjured worlds, often employing long takes and stationary camera set-ups that demand the young actors fill the frame with an entrancing connection between both themselves and the audience.

Western critics have been quick to place the ‘magic realism’ label on The Seen and Unseen, which perhaps diminishes how intricate a connection to the physical and supernatural world the people of Indonesia view their existence. Little difference is implied between, for example, the sadness of a parent’s hospital vigil and the joy of an imagined costume dance, during which the twins leap about the ward with abandon. This connection is no more stirringly exemplified than in the ‘moon dance’ sequence; Andini and her DOP Anggi Frisca frame an early evening full moon, a bamboo tower and a soulful dancer to create what may be the most beautiful series of wordless images in cinema this year.

Though never called upon to over-emote or deliver lengthy dialogue passages, Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih is heartbreaking as Tantri, her slightest movement or glance enough to provide insight into and inspire the deepest of emotions. Her free-spirited scenes in the fantasy realm with Mahijasena, also remarkable, are a wonder to watch.

Instantly worthy of inclusion in the annals of classic children cinema, Kamila Andini has woven a major work of fantasy that courses with a rare humanism. The Seen and Unseen is steeped in eastern philosophy and tradition but universal in its conveying of defining moments, both shattering and joyful, in this life and the next.