An Indonesian Classic in a New Light: A Conversation on the Landmark Restoration of After the Curfew

An Indonesian Classic in a New Light: A Conversation on the Landmark Restoration of <em>After the Curfew</em>

There would be no Indonesian cinema without Usmar Ismail (1921–71). His third feature, The Long March (Darah dan doa, 1950), was not only the first film to be produced by a fully Indonesian crew and production company but also one of the earliest films to identify Indonesia as a political entity. Following a division of the Indonesian army making its way back to base during the National Revolution, which came on the heels of the country’s declaration of independence in 1945, The Long March delivers a strong nationalistic message: the Indonesians are portrayed as good and idealistic, while their opposition, the separatists and Dutch colonialists, is seen as evil and opportunistic. Despite managing only meager financial returns during its theatrical run, the movie was celebrated by the budding film industry as marking the birth of the national cinema.

Ismail, whose centennial is being celebrated next month, went on to a fruitful career. He directed several popular dramas about war and its aftermath, including Six Hours in Yogyakarta (Enam djam di Djogja, 1951) and After the Curfew (Lewat djam malam, 1954), and a number of other box-office hits—namely, The Special Guest (Tamu agung, 1955) and Three Sisters (Tiga dara, 1956). His success in Indonesia attracted attention from neighboring countries, leading to production deals with Singapore’s Cathay-Keris Films. The movies he made for the studio, Victim of Slander (Korban fitnah, 1961) and Shadows at Dawn (Bayangan diwaktu fajar, 1962), are regarded as important transnational works in the Malay cinema heritage.

Given Ismail’s influence, it was only natural that several of his twenty-seven films popped up among the candidates when the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) proposed the idea of restoring an Indonesian film in 2010. At the time, restoration was uncommon for Indonesian movies—in 1994, Dr. Huyung’s Between Earth and Heaven (Antara bumi dan langit, 1950) had received the treatment, but the project was not well publicized in the country.

Consulting with J. B. Kristanto, a well-respected Indonesian film critic, the NMS singled out Ismail’s After the Curfew, a drama about a former war hero struggling to readapt to civilian life after the National Revolution. Compared with the historic The Long March, the film was produced with greater financial resources; Ismail and his crew were also far more experienced and knowledgeable than they were on the earlier film. With After the Curfew, Ismail deftly combined Hollywood narrative approaches, mainly the moral tension of film noir and the melodrama of William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), with conventions then familiar in Indonesian cinema, including stage-inspired musical numbers. More important, with this film, Ismail moved away from his earlier works’ more simplistic view of national identity, presenting a scathing critique of the postcolonial social order that still feels relevant today.

After settling on After the Curfew, the NMS enlisted two consultants who would emerge as key figures on the restoration project: Lisabona Rahman and Lintang Gitomartoyo. Rahman—a film critic and, at the time, a programmer for the Jakarta art house Kineforum—inspected the condition of the film materials at Sinematek Indonesia, the national film archive; gathered various documents establishing After the Curfew’s historical significance; and participated in several phases of the digital restoration—a project that eventually grew to involve Italy’s L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory and Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project. Gitomartoyo—who had experience managing a variety of film-exhibition initatives, including the Konfiden Short Film Festival—coordinated the logistics in Jakarta, mediating the correspondence between the NMS, Sinematek, and Ismail’s family; facilitating the transport and inspection of the film reels; and preparing the launch of the finished restoration at the national cinema.

After premiering at Cannes in May 2012, the restored After the Curfew made the trip back home a few weeks later, going on to screen in ten different Indonesian cities before nearly six thousand viewers. In recent months, After the Curfew has entered the Criterion Collection, as part of the six-film World Cinema Project No. 3 set, and become available to stream in the U.S. and Canada courtesy of the Criterion Channel. Inspired by their work on Ismail’s masterpiece, Rahman and Gitomartoyo have gone on to aid in the restoration of further Indonesian classics, including Ismail’s Three Sisters, Asrul Sani’s The Barbed-Wire Fence (Pagar kawat berduri, 1961), Wim Umboh and Misbach Yusa Biran’s Little Star (Bintang ketjil, 1963), and Tan Sing Hwat’s Aladin (1953). Recently, I spoke with them about the significance of, and the challenges encountered during, the After the Curfew project, as well as about the general state of preservation and restoration efforts in Indonesia. I have translated the conversation from Indonesian.

Usmar Ismail is the godfather of Indonesian cinema. We can all agree on that. But of all the iconic works in his filmography, why choose After the Curfew? Especially for such a momentous restoration project, which at the time we believed to be a first for Indonesian cinema.

Lisabona Rahman: The early discussions were actually about something else. We had a project with the NMS to create the English-language version of filmindonesia.or.id [an online encyclopedia of Indonesian cinema, an outgrowth of a decades-long project by Kristanto to document every film produced and released theatrically in Indonesia]. Philip Cheah [a film critic and regular contributor to the museum’s screening program, as well as a consultant for the website project] had this idea to screen an Indonesian classic for the website’s launch. But what would we screen? From what I knew at the time, many prints of Indonesia’s classic films were in poor condition. It was only then that we began to discuss the possibility of restoration, which somehow got serious. Naturally, we turned to Kristanto. As a senior film critic, with a career spanning more than three decades, he had credible knowledge about Indonesian film history. We trust his judgment. And he recommended After the Curfew, for its aesthetic merit and historical significance.

Lintang Gitomartoyo: I must emphasize that back then we had zero knowledge about film restoration. We were learning throughout the process, with recommendations from L’Immagine Ritrovata and the NMS. It was only in the years after that that Lisa and I took a serious interest in delving deeper into film preservation. Anyway, after we settled on After the Curfew, we set up preliminary research in September 2010 to check on the film’s condition. We looked for the remaining copies in Sinematek. It turned out the reels for the original camera negative, the master copy, were still available and complete. In terms of film restoration, that is a luxury, since not all productions manage to retain the original negative, which of course provides the best image quality. We also managed to find reels of other copies: a master positive, a duplicate negative, and so on.

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