Opera Jawa

Woman on the beach: Artika Sari Devi in Opera Jawa (Image courtesy of Pyramide Films)

The Indonesian Opera Jawa begins with the most quotable subtitle of any foreign film in many a moon: “In a pig’s liver, one can see an entire life.” The overweight troubadour who sings this line continues: “You can read anyone’s fate in it.” By his side, as if to demonstrate a liver’s reliability as an indicator of futures, a smiling trio lovingly admires a quivering organ. The beaming expressions on the faces of a husband, wife, and village elder suggest that they have a defective liver on their hands; for here, as in most operas, things are going to turn out badly. And despite writer-director Garin Nugroho’s surrealist bent, the opera he creates has more in common with the folk tragedy of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess than with the splashiness of a Bollywood musical.

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