Meaningful looks: the transformation, function and meaning of visual style in contemporary Indonesian film

Ari Purnama

    Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

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    What can the visual style of Indonesian films tell us about contemporary Indonesia, the world's third largest democracy?

    This thesis examines how Indonesian film has changed in the years following the end of Suharto's dictatorship, with an emphasis on visual techniques such as lighting, location shooting and set design, and camera movement. It focuses especially on the ways that these techniques have been used to develop innovative modes of cinematic storytelling, contributing to the wider reinvigoration of Indonesian cinema in the 21st Century.

    Indonesian film has undergone substantial transformations in the twenty years since the country transitioned from an ironclad authoritarian rule to an electoral democracy (1998-present). In this era, also referred to invariably as the post-Suharto/post-Reformasi/post-New Order era, Indonesian cinema showcases a greater diversity in production modes, subject matter, gender representation, and the social background of filmmakers—there are more women and self-taught filmmakers now than before. But the aesthetic dimension of Indonesian cinema has significantly changed, too. In particular, the visual style of Indonesian films has undergone significant transformation in the contemporary period. It is this visual stylistic dimension of contemporary Indonesian film that this dissertation critically explores.

    By employing the poetics of cinema as its methodological framework, and using the functional theories of film style as its theoretical lenses, this dissertation is intended as a contribution towards developing a stylistics of contemporary Indonesian film. It will be the first account that systematically examines the aesthetic dimension of Indonesian cinema. It is written in the conviction that Indonesian film can be treated as worthy aesthetic objects, just as other Indonesian arts have been in fields such as musicology (gamelan), theater studies (ludruk; wayang), textile studies (batik) and art history (Javanese-Buddhist wall reliefs; sculptures; paintings).

    Examining visual style in Indonesian cinema doesn’t simply tell us about film style itself, but reveals further insights into the culture at large. Visual style puts on display the various dimensions of human experience, which entails the delineation of the specific cultural traits of Indonesia. Pertinent to post-Suharto Indonesian cinema is the exploration of the cultural diversity of the archipelago. In the previous eras of Indonesian cinema history, the representation of these regional cultures was suppressed, in mass media and especially in cinema. Visual style, then, contributes immensely in this shift toward representing the ‘true faces’ of Indonesia, which is diverse and rich in traditions, artifacts, and customs. Through visual stylistic articulation, the concept of Indonesia itself as a nation is being reimagined, reevaluated, and contested.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Groningen
    • Korthals Altes, Liesbeth, Supervisor
    • Hanich, Julian, Co-supervisor
    Award date27-Jun-2019
    Place of Publication[Groningen]
    Print ISBNs978-94-034-1783-7
    Electronic ISBNs978-94-034-1782-0
    Publication statusPublished - 2019

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