MIFF review: The Seen and Unseen

Childlike wonder and creeping grief dance together in this haunting Balinese dream. Ethereal.

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 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 mother (Ayu Laksmi), tender though clearly despairing behind a mask of togetherness, holds Tantri at a distance from the truth, the young girl grasps the seriousness of his predicament intuitively, and in so doing crushes an egg held tightly in her hand, its yolk pooling on the ward floor.

The cycle of life held within its delicate shell is 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 tell of death and regeneration.

Skipping backwards and forwards in time, and deftly between the corporeal and the moonlit spirit world, we see the twins’ 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 glitchy, animal and insect-like moves performed by half-shadowed children rolling in the long grass. These nighttime interludes are perturbing, though also hypnotically beautiful, amplified by Yasuhiro Morinaga’s pulsing score. The lolling rolls of these wraith-like children, harbingers of doom or perhaps escorts to guide Tantra safely to another world, mimic the monkeys that flit from temple to ocean’s pebbled edge.

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

Andini’s haunting majesty oscillates between soaring joy and mellifluous melancholia, but it is, at all times, magical.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords