Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Cigarette Girl

I hate smoking, but "Cigarette Girl" (2023) got my attention because of where it came from, but also learned it is part of their historical roots.  It is very well done and will have to be included in my top films viewed in 2023. 

The smoking issue is problematic for me, but accept it is part of history and culture.  The directing team, husband and wife do not smoke.  One of the main characters is a doctor and is shown to take cigarettes out of the hands of her patients.  The series shows both powerful people and the poor enjoying smoking.  Women are liberated enough to also enjoy smoking. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/06/smoking-and-movies.html

Indonesia is the fourth most populated country in the world.   The Dutch brought tobacco to Indonesia.  The availability of cheap labor made it profitable. 

 We start with what appears to be a death bed request.  The youngest son, Lebas is expected to find a person with few clues.  He finds a tobacco museum and gradually uncovers old letters.  He is helped by a young (and attractive) woman, Dr. Arum who at first appears annoyed with him, but soon the search becomes a personal mystery for both.  The viewer makes some assumptions and tries to predict how the underlying mysteries will turn out.  Some prediction may be close, but there are quite a few twists that will catch us off guard.

The focus is on two times 1960's and 2001 with a few times in between.  In the 1960's we follow Dasiyah who we come to realize is the person requested by the ill Soeraja labeled Jeng Yah, a term of respect.  Although as the eldest daughter she has been used by her father as the tobacco factory manager.  She is very competent, but restricted from working with flavors.  Soon we meet the younger Soeraja in the 1960's who at first is recognized as an honest educated man with some experience.  Over time  he rises in responsibility as the owner sees him as the manager when his daughter would be forced out of the business by an arranged strategic marriage.

Viewers quickly realize this is the romance set up to perk our interest.  A key is that Soeraja respects women and supports Jeng Yah  in her efforts to mix flavors behind her father's back.  There is a myth that women touching tobacco in the mixing stage will make it sour.  They do become lovers and she declares against the arranged marriage.  This upsets family plans and he is dismissed and has to work hard to get back in contention.  The man picked as the groom, Seno figures in the story mostly as antagonistic towards Soeraja.

Up to 2001 Lebas and Arum realize neither knows their family history as much as they thought.  We learn soon enough that Arum's father was Seno, but he died before she was born.  There are a few other surprises for them and us.  Not only are there business decisions being made, but around 1965 the military staged a coup that involved the deaths of some 500,000 people affecting the lives of our main characters in unexpected ways. 

On the way to the end mixing tobacco to make it more flavorable plays an important role.  The unique flavor from Indonesia was based on cloves.  Currently in the United States there is some legislation meant to curb the cigarette flavor by eliminating menthol.  Of course there is resistance and getting back to this script, the flavor does make a difference.  Indonesia is a great source for herbs with unique odors. 

One interesting interlude was a black and white movie shown as a promotional tool to launch a new cigarette.  Movies have been recognized for their power to motivate.  The Indonesian cinema has been limited by the number of theatres and the relative lack of appropriate education.

This series is very professionally done indicating Indonesia is set to flex its muscles in the international film marketing game.  Here are a few contributors.

One half of the directing team is Ifa Isfansyah who learned of the novel by Ratih Kumala as it was finished in 2011 or 2012 but not yet published.  He realized the scope would require more cinematic expertise and a lot of financing.  Over the years he developed his own expertise starting with short films, but also education.  Indonesia developed its own cinema and by 2022 they were able to make an arrangement with Netflix that allowed the idea to be turned into a five episode series.  Ifa had become a director for an Asian film festival.  He with other Indonesian film makers made a breakthrough at the Busan International Film Festival with "Cigarette Girl" being the only non Korean film entered into the competition segment.  He has 20 film credits.

The other half of the directing team was his wife, Kamila Andini who was the daughter of famed director Garin Nugro.  She is an international award winner with 7 credits as a director and 6 as a writer.

Ratih Kumula wrote the original novel which covered the colonial period as well the changes occurring during the 1960's.  She was descended from a kretik cigrarette factory owner.  She was involved with writing for films with 6 credits plus one as a creative supervisor.

Ricky Lionardi provided the music.  He has 83 film credits.

Batera Goempar Siagian was the cinematographer.  He has 33 film credits including "ali & ratu ratu queens"  (2021) which was mostly set in New York City.

The editorial functions were handled by Ahmad Fesdi Anggoro with 16 credits and Helmi Nur Rasyid with 18 film credits.

Dian Sastrowardoyo played Dasiyah, also known as Jeng Yah.  In 1996 she drew public attention as a cover girl.  Her film career included international awards.  She has 24 film credits as an actress including the lead in "Kartini:  Princess of Java" (2017).  She also has been a producer, writer and director .http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/11/kartini-princess-of-java-feminist.html

Ario Bayu played the young Soeraja.  He has 39 film credits including an American film, "Java Heat" (2013).

Arya Saloka played Lebas.  He has 12 credits.

Putri Marino played Dr. Arum.  She has 12 credits.

Ibnu Jamil played Seno.  He has 31 credits including "ali & ratu ratu queens"  (2021).

Sheila Dara Aisha played Purwanti.  She has 24 film credits.

Rukman Rosadi played Idroes Moeria, a tough business man.  He has 47 credits including  "Sokola Rimba" (2013), "Kartini:  Princess of Java" (2017) and "Photocopier" (2022).

Available on Netflix with either dubbing or subtitled.  It is a 5 part series.  Indonesia is joining with other nations to be a serious producers of globally interesting films.

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