Sound + Vision: ‘Siti’ – A Life Unheard

by Hana Oktavia AnandiraJun 15, 2021

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Sound + Vision is a column that pairs film reviews with playlists inspired by the films reviewed. One of the guest writers for this issue is Hana Oktavia Anandira, who chose Eddie Cahyono’s Siti as her subject. A modern, black and white film that is also one of the best Indonesian films of the last decade.

Siti
Director: Eddie Cahyono
Released: 2014
Country: Indonesia

Listen to the playlist inspired by Siti below.

Watching Eddie Cahyono’s Siti is like watching a silent battle. In one and a half hours, the filmmaker herded us into a life of conflicting realities that belongs to Siti (Sekar Sari), a young woman who sells crab crackers by day and escorts countless men in a third-rate karaoke house by dawn. Just like other films that take on the figure’s identity, Siti’s paradoxical affair ensued from the lack — or absence — of choice, and in her scenario, the fight takes place in day-to-day reticence.

The slow burn monochromatic riff, gilded in 16:9 ratio, shows no explosive or hysterical climax, nor that it needs one. From start to finish, Siti, a mother to a babyish son Bagas (Bintang Timur Widodo) and wife to a paralyzed husband Bagus (Ibnu Widodo), goes by her days with the utmost composure, with her every move showing a sense of repression.

Her daytime persona, which caters to a series of mothering tasks and the menial job of snack-selling alongside the sea, is glum and melancholic, whilst her juxtaposing layer, exposed within karaoke rooms, speaks warm and flirtatious —a facade she has to preserve as a breadwinner to redeem her husband’s debts since he, an ex-fisherman, fell ill to a severe boating accident; an accident that robbed away their marriage. Following his knowledge of Siti’s nightwork, he refuses to speak, leaving her in a tormented state.

The dualism manifested in the feature doesn’t stop in Siti’s role as a woman in search of better days, which involves changing her lousy hawker attributes into skintight tank tops once she reaches night. Eddie furthers this through the presence of Gatot (Haydar Saliz), a local policeman lionized for his good looks and authoritative voice that confronts Siti’s relationship with her now-dysfunctional husband who, prior to the accident, believed in the beauty of the sea more than in heaven.

Surrounded by tedious, lower-class dilemmas in Bantul; from debts, police raids, to oplosan (moonshines), the film, wrapped in its subdued charm, challenges not the idea of right or wrong. Rather, it speaks loudly of what it means to be a woman — and the freedom she longs for and is entitled to — in a world where she is expected to serve. By steering clear of exaggerative blows many often expect in movies, Eddie illustrates a crisis as it is: quiet and explored in private.

Summary

Score: 7.5/10
Favorite character: Sri.
Favorite scene: Siti’s flashbacks where her family gathered under the sun while they embraced a familial bond that can only be formed through years of sorrows, with their feet on the sea.
Watch Siti if you like: The Science of Fictions (Yosep Anggi Noen, 2019), Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997), Happiness (Todd Solondz, 1998).
Highlight: Sri’s bubbly character fits like a perfect glove with Siti’s secretive nature. It won’t be long until actress Delia Nuswantoro finds herself starring in more feature films.

About the Author

Hana Oktavia Anandira
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A full-time editor at a Jakarta-based independent publication with a mind in art, culture and literature. She believes that the only ideal method of writing is to start with a question and leave no answer. Her take on texts and narratives: there is no tool more powerful than language.
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