The story told in Opera Jawa is based on the abduction of Sinta, from the Indonesian version of the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana. Sinta is the wife of Prince Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, and the story recounts his struggle against the forces of evil to gain Sinta’s release. In Opera Jawa, Rama becomes Setio, and Sinta is his wife, Siti.
Setio and Siti are former dancers who now make and sell pottery in a poor Indonesian village. Business is not good, and the marketplace is a target for street gangs; this reminds Setio of roles he and Siti once danced. In the epic tale, Sinta is abducted by the evil Rahwana; in Setio’s own home, the beautiful Siti is falling under the spell of the wealthy and powerful butcher, Ludiro.
Siti tries desperately to resist Ludiro’s advances, but he knows her weakness – she gave up dancing to marry Setio, a choice she regrets. Ludiro tries everything to lure her, from invitations to dance, to incense and paths lit with candles, but Siti resists. Finally, he fashions a dancer’s scarf that stretches like a carpet all the way to her door. Once again, she escapes, but Setio believes he has lost Siti’s love. In despair and rage, he raises an army of the poor and oppressed to fight the evil that has destroyed his life.
Opera Jawa was one of seven films commissioned by New Crowned Hope Festival Vienna 2006, celebrating the 250 th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The filmmakers were challenged to draw their inspiration from themes in Mozart’s late works: “magic and transformation, truth and reconciliation, and ceremonies for the dead.” Garin Nugroho sets the theme of requiem –Ceremonies for the dead – in the uniquely Indonesian context of Javanese dance opera, blending visual arts, music, dance and cinema to tell a modern variation on an old and familiar tale. (http://globalfilm.org/guides/opera_jawa_DG.pdf)
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
Garin Nugroho was born into an artistic family in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in 1961. He studied filmmaking at the Institut Kesenian Jakarta. He has taught filmmaking at the Institut, made numerous documentaries and two short dramas, and also worked as a film critic for Indonesian newspapers before making his first feature film, Leaf on a Pillow (1999). Nugroho is a leading filmmaker in Indonesia, known for the uniqueness of each of his films, which include Birdman Tale (2002), And the Moon Dances (1995), Tokyo (1998), and Of Love and Eggs (2004). Opera Jawa is his ninth feature film.