Directed by: #SteveMasihoroe
Bapak (Robert Ginting) wants Santi (Fransiska Juanti) to be a wife for his twenty-five-year-old son Tono (Kiko Katana P).
GOWOK (The Ins and Outs of a Woman’s Body) is a barmy foreign language film. In an unusual scene (reminiscent of Shirley Valentine), Bapak appears to be addressing a wall, but is actually talking to Tono who is in the other room. Tono, though, is not much warmer as a person and the script suggests he has never slept with a woman. He is a man-child who watches cartoons, likes lollipops and his near silence, although never explicitly stated, implies a possible trauma. Maybe Santi could bring him out of this state and provide Tono with the guide to a woman’s body.
The performances feel emotionally distant because the relationships are established through necessity, not feelings whilst also collaborating with director Steve Masihoroe’s precise vision. In addition to this, small gestures are emphasised to stand out in this quite static film.
Whereas characters do not show much emotion, the quirky score does with Andrew Huang’s accordion being the most prominent instrument. Sounding more at home in a European production, it gives the film a unique flavour whilst being a potential earworm.
The score has freedom to work because of Yohanes Bayu’s and Kiko Katana Pamungkas’s editing. The long takes between camera angles has an immediate, unusual effect that emphasises visual clues and gestures whilst allowing the audience time to process this information.
This might prove helpful to those who feel that Masihoroe’s and Ahmad S. Nugraha’s script is too vague. The exposition is never telegraphed with titbits offered throughout such as in a news report. Alternatively, the literal dialogue only conveys information that connotes objectivity and emotional distance.
With exposition, there are visual clues like a dress on a washing line. However, on a technical level, Bayu’s and Aldi Saputra’s #cinematography is effective because it is still, carefully composed (like a Wes Anderson film) and probably awful for obsessively tidy people like when Bapak is sat just off-centre in the frame. However, this is not that obsessive as non-vital elements are occasionally cropped and there is also inventiveness involved such as the camera shaking during a stripping scene to emulate sexual excitement.
The problem with the cinematography is that some of the interior shots in the house lack proper lighting, but it is arguably a unique, believable setting. In fact, even the exterior environments are effective such as when Bapak first meets Santi and the plants form a non-distracting background for the actors to perform in front of.
The setting indicates the narrative’s concerns with themes of a woman’s place in a strict society. When Santi talks to Tono, in a display of strength she demands respect and commands a situation. Conversely, the narrative also focuses on a son’s position as epitomised by the weak-willed Tono. In summary, the film concentrates subtly on a particular culture’s family system.
There is no denying though that GOWOK (The Ins and Outs of a Woman’s Body) is divisive. It will not attract the average movie-going public that like their motion pictures delivered with literal meanings and it might put them off. However, it will appeal to those who appreciate films with a ‘show don’t tell’ approach to storytelling. Regardless, there is a genuine, thought-provoking message being conveyed here and Masihoroe’s production cannot be faulted for that.