Watching Aditya Ahmad’s On Stopping The Rain for the first time, one could easily be forgiven for thinking that they were watching a self-aware documentary on slums in Indonesia. One of those modern types that try not to impose any meaning on the viewer, merely opening a window for them to observe another world from afar. After all, the first half of the film is bare ambient sound, with no dialogue or voice-over, while the camera establishes the setting. Even though we casually follow a protagonist, it is only much later, during the chase when the sound changes, that we realise there is a narrative.
This balance of documentary and narrative style stands out to me because it is very much unlike the typical National Geographic documentary that is edited to create a narrative, so we know that we are being driven towards a certain point. Neither is it a narrative with a faux-documentary style a la Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008). Perhaps you could use the term “docudrama” but even so, I think that’s difficult to agree upon.
For you see, the film means different things to different audiences as reflected by its titles in Indonesian and English. Towards a foreign audience, Aditya uses the title “On Stopping The Rain” to emphasise the superstition that it is based upon, which makes the film leans towards a dramatized documentary. However, its Indonesian title “Septau Baru”, means “New Shoes” which focuses upon the protagonist’s motivation and assumes a common understanding of the superstition in the audience. To locals, I believe, this film would be viewed as a fictional narrative instead.
This problem of classification might seem pedantic but I use this to highlight why On Stopping The Rain might mean different things to different audiences and how it pushes the boundaries of style through sound. Of course, the visuals say something as well but I’ll leave it up to the viewer to decide whether they fit with the approach I’ve suggested or something else altogether. There are two things that I keep wondering about though. Firstly, whether different parts of Indonesia might have different responses to it. After all, the film was shot in Makassar, in a local dialect rather than Indonesian. Secondly, where can I find a cup of that kopi her father keeps drinking?