First a rhetorical joust of journalistic quote encapsulation (if you can't nail the entire film in a single all-encompassed catchy phrase you're not a real critic, or at least your editor will not greenlight the review...) :
Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT) : "A colorful and confounding head trip, “Opera Jawa” is guaranteed to test the fortitude of all but the most adventurous viewer."Rosenbaum is right, the NYT review stinks! It's not even a thought-provoking dissent against the film, it's just a lazy passive-aggressive disdain without any critical analysis.
Olaf Möller (Film Comment, Cinema Scope) : "honest-to-God masterpiece of mad invention"
Jonathan Rosenbaum (The Chicago Reader) : "audacious, undeniably challenging, in fact downright mind-boggling avant-garde masterpiece (...) dazzling bolt from the blue - something to see and savor again"
Jesse Zigelstein (LA Times) : "A spirit of political protest surges through Opera Jawa, which acknowledges Indonesia's troubled past and explicitly dedicates itself to victims of violence, tyranny, and natural disaster. But the real revelation here is the film's formal daring, its almost excessive flood of metaphor, movement, and unfettered audiovisual expression."
Nathan Lee (Village Voice) : "a surrealist Indonesian pomo-folkloric/funkadelic musical–slash–avant-garde pop-and-lock revolutionary romance–slash–Hindu song-and-dance-installation art extravaganza. (...) let's just call it a nonpareil Ramayana boogie-down gong drum, with a tembang gamelan xylophone huzzah and super-tight moves on the wayang orang tip."
Jay Weissberg (Variety) : "A beautifully mounted musical epic combining traditional myths with contempo meditations on violence and social inequality, "Opera Jawa" is bold and innovative. But it is so chock-a-block with metaphor and over-decorated with artists' installations that it veers into the too-earnest waters of an ethnic fringe "happening" at Lincoln Center."
The New York Times returns to its philistine rootsAnd here is the faulty exhibit :
by Jonathan Rosenbaum (The Chicago Reader) :
"I've been reflecting lately that the film coverage these days in the New York Times (...) But then I read the ugly, xenophobic, tossed-off review of Opera Jawa by Jeannette Catsoulis in today's paper, and I realize that in some ways we might as well be back in the 60s, when a barbarian like Bosley Crowther was smugly ruling the roost. (...)
Catsoulis is slightly less direct about insulting almost 235 million Indonesians, but the implication that what she perceives as their quaint customs are all pretty hilarious seems to hover over her review. In both cases, the assumption appears to be that if you're fortunate enough to be a New Yorker, no further education or level of sophistication is necessary; if you're unfortunate enough not to be, the farther away you are, the likelier you are to be ridiculed with impunity."
Unrest, a Love Triangle and Swinging HipsThis is typical of the "negative review" where the critic is out to mock a complex artistic project by ways of simplificative enumeration of disparate innocuous details that are far from representing the essence of the experience offered by this filmmaker. I don't know how relevant is the Madonna name-dropping... probably a zeitgeist ceal of approval necessary to bait the NYT readers. Otherwise they wouldn't listen...
By Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT, January 16, 2008) :
"probably the first [film] to open with a song about pig livers (...) Filled with shadow puppets, leaping villagers, animal carcasses and tinkly gamelan music (...) impressive contortions of Mr. Supriyanto, whose résumé includes Madonna’s Drowned World Tour and whose hips deserve their own paycheck. Dancing seductively on a tabletop, wearing a jaunty fedora and red cummerbund, he generates a magnetism breaching cultural boundaries"
Plus the stream-of-consciousness note-to-self quoting a line of dialogue (or in this case lyrics) out of context to ridicule the whole piece and give a deceiving impression of the ensemble :
“My sperm sparkles in the heavens,” he warbles, by way of a come-on. Oh, well, I never said he was perfect.At least Nathan Lee defends the film's achievements :
Freak Folk, Opera Jawa is the Indonesian morality musical of the yearThe last comment wasn't absolutely necessary (gratuituous and derogatory), neither was it gratifying the author of the review nor the auteur of the film. And at the end of the review, when you appreciated the fact he didn't even try to give a synopsis rundown yet he admits :
by Nathan Lee (Village Voice) :
"Visually, the movie is a radiant folk fantasia, at once sophisticated and elemental, freewheeling and composed. Keenly observed naturalistic details segue into elaborate puppet nightmares (regional artists collaborated on the production and costume design); demonic pantomime mixes with proletarian breakdancing; erotic duets give way to egotistical solos staged beside a bloody slab of beef on a floor strewn with bright red candles in the shape of melting man heads. (...)
As do a maze constructed of coconut shells; an enormous ribbon of bright red fabric wound through an emerald landscape; a Javanese honky-tonk jam led by a fat man with tits nearly as big and impressive as his voice; and more—much, much, and marvelous more."
"yes, there is a plot, which I've avoided talking about since, having devoted all of my attention to gobbling up the sights and grooving to the music, I'm relying on Google to reconstruct what, exactly, this wondrous thing is "about""More opinions :
SFIFF CapsulesThe most comprehensive and faithful rendition of the film in this lot of reviews is Jay Weissberg's at Variety.
by Darren Hughes (Long Pauses)
"Opera Jawa was simply an overwhelming experience for me. Full of images as powerfully imaginative as any you will find in Angelopoulos and late Kurosawa (I kept thinking of Ran), combined with a stunning gamelan score and dance sequences so strange and transcendent I expected Denis Lavant to make an appearance, this film has the effect of all great opera: it's epic, sensuous, and impossibly beautiful."
Although he has some criticism about the content :
"No doubt there's more that a keen-eyed student of Javanese theater would catch, but even as it stands the identifiable symbolism winds up burying the characters, who have enough to say -- or rather, sing and dance -- without the need for such distractions.I think this is part of the musical genre (the title even says it's an opera, which is even more caricatural and archetypal, narrativewise). Symbolism is grandiloquent and characters are blatantly manichaean. This is all part of the lyricism of such overarching epics. We should take its message as a whole (without bothering with the continuity or relevance or realism of individual elements), as a giant and naive allegory (this is obviously a "popular street theatre" type of folkloric storytelling destined to the mass). If we only keep the love triangle without the symbolism, it's merely another melodrama.
Demonstrators with banners proclaiming "Down with exploitation!" are much too unsubtle a form of social commentary and just don't integrate into the rest of the story."