SFF review: The Seen and Unseen

Childlike wonder and creeping grief dance together in the moonlight in this haunting Balinese dream. Magical.

Nature and the supernatural fold into one another seamlessly in Indonesian writer/director Kamila Andini’s symbolically pregnant sophomore feature The Seen and Unseen. Exploring the awesome abilities of childlike imagination and wonder, this Bali-set semi-dreamscape also opens up the pain of cruel loss encroaching far too early on innocent lives.

Opening on young Tantri (Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih), she hovers cluthing an egg in the doorway of the hospital room where her twin ‘buncing’ brother Tantra (Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena) is slowly succumbing to a debilitating condition. Though her tender though clearly despairing behind a mask of togetherness mother (Ayu Laksmi) holds Tantri at a distance from the truth, she grasps the seriousness of his predicament intuitively, crushing the egg in her hand, its yolk dripping slowly and pooling on the ward floor.

The cycle of life promised by the riches held within the delicate shell a recurring image written into this rich fable that draws deeply on Balinese mythology, most obviously in a shadow puppetry scene by Tantra’s bed. The gods and monsters cast on the curtain that separates his resting place from the next patient along tell of death and regeneration.

Flipping backwards and forwards in time, and deftly between the corporeal and the moonlit spirit world, we see the twin’s strong bond slowly slackening against their will. In carefree days, Tantra steals the eggs left as offerings at temples and Tantri cooks them, serving him the yolk and eating the white herself. As he slowly slips from this world, she encounters an egg mysteriously bereft of its sun-coloured core.

Choreographer Ida Ayu Wayan Arya Satyani conjures spirits from striking animal and insect-like moves, glitchily captured by half-shadowed children rolling in the long grass. Thee nighttime interludes are perturbing, though also hypnotically beautiful, and amplified by Yasuhiro Morinaga’s hypnotic electro score. The wraith-like children, harbingers of doom or perhaps escorts to guide Tantra safely to another world, their lolling rolls mimic the monkeys that flit from temple to ocean’s pebbled edge.

Satyanis’ dance-like trance state is there, too, in the aching beauty of the twins’ determination to play even as Tantra fades, painting and costuming themselves as fighting cocks and extending the bird imagery beyond the feminine.

At times spooky, the twin status of Andini’s haunting majesty oscillates between soaring joy and mellifluous melancholia. It is, at all times, magical.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords

★★★★1/2