Youth Meets Film: Issue 5, 2014

12 December 2014

The "Happiest" Day of Our Lives

By Hansel Arief

Chatters and conversations are heard in the background. A woman in Javanese traditional wedding gown sits soundlessly by a wooden table (where the validation of marriage will most probably be carried out), her expression shows unrest. More chatter can be heard- this time from the road. The groom sits at the front passenger seat, as silent as the bride. Both sides of the families are worried about the wedding. The groom is running late, the bride is getting anxious and the ustad is impatient to go home.

What’s supposed to be the happiest day of the couple’s lives seems to be contrasted by the emotions painted on their faces. While their families are constantly talking away, they are strangely mute. The casual talks among the family members seem to lighten the mood, but on the contrary, it heightens the psychological tension that the couple is battling in their heads. Are they actually happy for the wedding? Could it be an arranged marriage where such practices are still considered common in the country? What is the idea of marriage?

Seserahan or The Wedding Gift questions the idea of marriage. Jason Iskandar, the director decides to focus his attention towards the most important persons in the entire ceremony- the soon-to-be-married. The emphasis was put on the couple by giving them a strong, silent presence by making them the only two people that are visible to the audience. Though virtually unspoken, the concerns and worries of the bride and groom are highlighted throughout.

“We don’t know what marriage is, we just do as we’re told,” Jason informed me through e-mail. He believes that whether it is an arranged marriage or not, the “bride and the groom never really own the wedding.” It is as if that their marriage isn’t actually theirs, but rather the will of their family.

Interestingly enough, there is another character that was shown in the film, and is even given credit at the end of the film- that is the rooster. The reason could be subjective, but it seems rather depressing that a possible interpretation is that- out of the whole entire ceremony, the only other living entity that seems to sympathize with the couple is not a human or their families, but rather a mere chicken that shares the same silence as them.

Dendang Bersahutan is played and the film seems to end in an upbeat, joyful note, just after the bride’s façade seems to fall apart alongside her fake eyelashes. On a first look, it might seem as if everyone rejoices. Yet, are we right to make a sweeping statement that “everybody” is happy?

An Interview with Jason Iskandar on the Wedding Gift

Hansel: Quoting from you “We don’t know what marriage is, we just do as we’re told.” Was it an arranged marriage then?

Jason: You can read it that way, but I think we don’t really know what the meaning of marriage and wedding ceremony is, even it’s not an arranged marriage. The bride and groom never really own the wedding, it’s never been their wedding, it’s never been their marriage. It’s their family who own it. I believe every wedding ceremony is only representation of the family to show off their social class and status. Then for the bride and the groom? They are just a doll who have to agree with their family.

H: What is the main focus of the story? The wedding (arranged?) or the couple?

J: The couple. This film tries to explore psychological aspect of the couple.

H: The couple seem to be nervous. Is it simply because the wedding is delayed?

J: Just like what I wrote in the point number one. They don’t feel comfortable with their own wedding. Their family only care with their pride and give no shit to the bride and groom. That’s why they feel nervous.

H: Why the title “The Wedding Gift?”

J: Seserahan’ or ‘The Wedding Gift’ is a symbol for ‘trading’ the bride with some kind of gift. So, if you want to marry the bride, you have to give their family a gift to show you’re able to give her a living. Usually, the groom gives fruits, make-up, chicken, mukenah, sajadah, etc. Why the wedding gift is important? Because it’s a chance for the family to show off their wealth. So, my point is: wedding and marriage are family things. And I think it’s a very interesting issues to be told and relate it to the bigger question: is it still relevant now?

H: What is the significance of the cock that it was given credit at the end?

J: Because of the treatment I chose. We decided to only visually show the bride, the groom, and one ‘living creature’ which is also important, the cock, one of the wedding gifts.

H: Gold was mentioned to be the supposedly wedding gift (If I didn’t misread the handwriting on the paper). Is there any reason behind it?

J: No, ‘mas kawin’ can not be literally translated into gold. In our culture, after you give the wedding gift to the bride’s family, you also have to give ‘mas kawin’ or ‘mahar’, to validate the ‘transaction’ for the bride. So ‘mas kawin’ is not literally a gold, but a ‘marriage validation’, in this film we use ‘seperangkat alat shalat’ or ‘a set of prayer’s outfit’. The ‘mas kawin’ is also a compensation for the ‘loss’ experienced by bride’s family. After the groom read the text that explain he want to marry the bride and give the family a ‘mahar’, the suspect will say: ‘sah/validate’, then the marriage was validated.

H: I like the part where they got lost on the road. Is it pure mistake or does it have to do with the development in Indonesia- or specifically any city for that matter?

J: In the new order era, President Soeharto made centralization policy. This centralized development led to very wide gap between Jakarta and other cities. Therefore, there’s also a wide gap between development in city and village in New Order era. Of course after the downfall of Soeharto, this barrier and dichotomy between urban and rural slowly begin to blur and hard to be distinguished. But if we talk about infrastructure, you can see it’s still not evenly developed. As you can see in the film, the infrastructure in rural area is pretty bad. This factor influenced the story in the film.

H: Gadis Jujur was shown a couple of times. What is it exactly and any specific reason for the reference?

J: I found this very interesting sticker on my first recce. I decided to put it into the film because I think it could be useful to represent the bride’s character. I think every sticker/urban art never been used without any consideration of identity. For example, if you put ‘AC Milan’ sticker and ‘Paolo Maldini’ poster in your room, then it means you want everybody else to recognize you as AC Milan fans. You want every guest come to your room to keep their mouth shut and be very careful if they’re Inter Milan fans, for example. My point is sticker/poster/artwork represents something. And in the context of the film, the bride’s character could be represented by the Gadis Jujur/Honest Girl/Good Girl, or at least that’s what the bride want to be recognized by other people.

The second reason: this film is about crash/collision between unexpected things. You can see in the middle of the film when the door opens, Gadis Jujur with modern-90s outfit crashing with traditional Kebaya woman portrait. At the end of the film, when the bride starts to cry, I cut the image to the Gadis Jujur smiling so proudly with herself. So there’re a lot of unexpected things crashing to one another assembled and organized by the film editing.

H: Lastly, what do you think of Jokowi and of the opposition?

J: Well, it takes a day and a night to discuss this issue. But for instance, Jokowi and Prabowo in this election are very rich democracy lesson. Jokowi, this young charming hardworker leader, proves that people participation are needed. Nevertheless, people still have to oversee his policy now and the future. Moreover, Jokowi still surrounded by some people with troubled background, including human rights violator.