The premise of “Kata Maaf Terakhir” (“Last Word of Forgiveness”) is one that could have made for either a thought-provoking story of repentance or a heavy melodrama thick with cliches. While the film manages to balance its soap opera tendencies with more substantial components early on, it unfortunately spirals into mediocrity with implausible coincidences and tear-jerking scenes.
The story follows Darma (played by Tio Pakusadewo with usual finesse), who is dying from lung cancer. He has been told by his doctor, Dr. Ray (Dwi Sasono), he has only a month left to live.
Darma had previously left his family after having an affair with his wife’s friend, Alina (played by actress and model, Kinaroysih), who became pregnant. On hearing his diagnosis, Darma sets out to make amends for his past mistakes.
In the opening scene of the film, Darma is writing a list of the things he wants to do before his death: complete a full month of fasting; do the five daily Muslim prayers; quit smoking; and find forgiveness from his wife Dania (Maia Estianty) and two teenage children, Reza (Ade Surya Akbar) and Lara (Rachel Amanda).
After the affair Darma became a recluse, too ashamed to face his family. His estranged family is still trying to repress any memories of him because it is so painful, but his actions have left such an emotional scar that any mention of his name triggers an argument.
Darma’s son Reza is high student and he hates his father with such passion that he takes martial arts classes to deal with the anger. Reza’s younger sister, Lara, however, has fond memories of spending Ramadan making mango juice with her father and brother.
The main characters in “Kata Maaf Terakhir” are well developed and believable in their emotions and complexity, and the actors are convincing in their portrayals. Teen actors Ade and Rachel deliver a believable frailty, confusion and anger in their roles. Ade’s portrayal of Reza’s intense bitterness is particularly noteworthy.
Singer and novice actress Maia Estianty does well in portraying the independent but scarred single mother.
Tio’s always dependable acting sometimes creates too much intensity, but he conveys the sense of the film well.
It is unfortunate then, and a waste of such talents, that the script becomes less realistic as it shifts into plastic sentiment and sob stories. The complex issues of repentance and forgiveness are discarded and replaced by hardly believable coincidences, such as when Darma discovers that his doctor is Dania’s current lover.
Director Maruli Ara — formerly a film editor — begins the film by focusing on Darma’s inner psyche, and in particular his sense of regret. His direction appears subtle and patient, as he lets each scene play out, a style that suits Darma’s introverted character.
While the more emotionally appealing aspects of the film wane, there are still glimpses of them during the movie’s latter parts.
One scene has Darma waiting for Lara outside her school, only for her to turn away from him. Maruli lets the relationship between Darma and Lara develop naturally without pretension or drama, and as a result, their later reunion is one of most memorable scenes of the film.
Ultimately, the characters, acting and direction of “Kata Maaf Terakhir” make it a film worth watching. But its eventual descent into soap opera should have been avoided, especially given the talent involved. The movie might make you shed a few tears, but perhaps not for the right reasons.