Director Viva Westi’s new film “Rayya: Cahaya Diatas Cahaya” (“Rayya: Light Upon Light”) can be described in two words: delightfully poetic.
While a movie that claims to talk about life values usually catapults a clueless or powerless character into a series of unfortunate events so the audience can draw a wise conclusion at the end, “Rayya” goes the other way. The lead character, Rayya (Titi Sjuman), is anything but powerless: she is the glorified, No. 1 celebrity in the country and very well knows her strengths.
The movie plot sees Rayya, who is used to the glamorous life of the city, experience another side of life. Rayya travels to a remote village with photographer Kemal (Alex Abbad) to shoot pictures for her autobiography. But when she doesn’t get along with Kemal, he is quickly replaced by Arya (Tio Pakusadewa).
Their road trip to exotic beaches and mountains suddenly becomes more than just a job that needs to be finished, as they soon discover they have a deep connection.
Rayya’s personality is difficult to like. It may seem understandable that she puts on a diva attitude — deriving from the pressure to be perfect at all times — but her jokes about committing suicide show that Rayya is a rather twisted character who is hard to read, and after a while, it gets tiring to watch her scream in rage.
On the other hand, Arya is a more controlled character. He is a quiet poet, but also a hillbilly who laughs at Rayya’s bitter take on life. It helps to break the ice at times, but even so, the personal struggles of the characters make the early part of the movie hard to enjoy.
“Rayya” is not only a contemplation on life, love and obtaining closure, but also a criticism of the country’s celebrity culture.
Viva not only directed the film but also co-wrote the script with Emha Ainun Najib. Knowing the background of the scriptwriters, the film was expected to be poetic, contemplative and subtly critical. However, as the script tries to achieve all that, it forgets some basic explanations in the storyline.
The importance of the journey is baffling. It is not clear why Rayya must go on a trip in the first place. Being a top celebrity, one would expect that her daily life in the usual urban setting would be the more crucial part of her autobiography.
At the same time, it is also confusing to see Rayya head off on a road trip for several days without the hint of scheduling problems or at least the aid of a personal assistant.
It is not until other characters appear in the movie that the story finally begins to grow. One notable guest performance comes from actress Christine Hakim, who brings warmth to the screen as Aunt Bude.
Other encounters between Rayya and people she meets on the road trip are enjoyable to watch. They beautifully portray a contrast of characters, offer thought-provoking dialogue and succeed at being genuinely funny.
“Rayya” is currently in cinemas and has a duration of nearly two hours. It has its flaws, but it’s still different from typical Indonesian dramas — a refreshing change in the local film industry.
Rayya: Cahaya Diatas Cahaya
Directed by Viva Westi;
Starring Titi Sjuman, Tio Pakusadewa, Alex Abbad, Christine Hakim;
118 minutes; Indonesian