Iqbal S Manurung, Didi Petet, Yayu A W Unru, Chairil A Dalimunthe, M Rifai Andhika Piliang, Febri Hansah Pulungan
The ocean. The illegal job. The uncaring father. The spirit of Truffaut.
As the moon lingers with lustrous benevolence, and the water seethes in constant flux, young Jaya slumbers his way toward his destination: an isolated jetty in the azure expanse of the Indonesian ocean. In common with both our lunar companion and the sea, Jaya’s new home is one of distant comforts and unsettling agitation. His homestead is actually a fishing business, one that illegally employs children to carry out the work – a vocation he immediately finds himself ‘employed’ within. While stoically braving his peers’ bullying and the perilous drudgery of the work, his rarest challenge lies in earning respect from the jermal’s owner – his father, Johar, a man hiding from both his murderous past and his paternal feelings. In this isolated world, the extralegal – the mantle of manhood – becomes as inscrutable as the ocean’s current. Delicate but honest, resplendent and yet uncompromising, Jermal honours the legacy of neo-realism through its respect for the resilience of children. It never stoops to euphemise the tribulations of the young Jaya – toiling in an adult world not of his making – nor feels the need to wrap Johar’s actions in the symbolic excuses adult masculinity uses as sanctuary. Here, the adult world does not know best. It is impossible to add any hierarchy to acting honours that convey the sheer precision of the film's intentions. The neophyte Jaya and his fellow fisher ‘men’ are proof positive of the failings of screen acting; their unguarded, innate collective presence is delightful, nuanced and real. Then there’s the gnomic Johar, with Didi Petet’s theatrical background evident in the way he uses his entire body to assert his dominant presence. Strutting around like a stranded god, he attains the symbolic stature of an embodiment of paternal failure, a beer-bellied Poseidon who has become an atoll of distant emotion as remote as the jermal itself. With not a single scene auxiliary to the narrative’s clinical intentions, Jermal delivers neo-realism back to the coastline of its roots, adding renewed vigour to a cinematic history embodied in the observational eye and a distrust of enforced morality. It is as if De Sica and Truffaut had never left.
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