Impetigore was one of the most interesting movies from the Sundance Film Festival. A horror movie that relies heavily on Indonesian culture while dealing with age old themes, director Joko Anwar’s film is the rare movie import that has the ability to cross all cultural barriers. AIPT spoke with Anwar along with actresses Tara Basro, Marissa Anita, and Christine Hakim.
AIPT: Last night, was the first time the movie screened outside of Indonesia. How exciting was it to have it play here at Sundance?
Tara Basro: It was very interesting because for the Indonesian viewer, it’s something that’s very close to their heart. I mean, you see the daily life of Maya and Dini is something that’s very relatable for them. I was very curious how the audience here will receive that, seeing our culture in cinema. Seeing everyone was very passionate about it and very excited and everyone seemed to enjoy it, I don’t know, it was a very good feeling to see that.
Marissa Anita: Yes. I was so touched actually, strangely to know that the film that we made last year gets to be shown in Sundance because we know that Sundance is one of the biggest film festivals and the most well respected in the world. And also, it was so nice when the movie finishes, most of the audience members decided to stay for the Q&A, and their questions were very interesting. So to see that curiosity was very exciting and to be able to share, what Tara said, our culture and this one story of one of our cultures in Indonesia.
Christine Hakim: What Tara says also, I’m very curious also, about the reaction from the audience here. Because this is not like a normal horror Indonesian film. How did this crazy and brilliant director try to relate our culture? I think in this global technology already, I think maybe it’s not easy also to people know this, the audience to relate with that kind of feeling and atmosphere. But surprisingly, the screening is very late, midnight, and then snow, heavy snow. But people stay until the Q and A. Then I said, “Oh, this is for our industry also, this is one step further.”
AIPT: How would you guys describe Impetigore?
Basro: Total insanity. That’s my two cents. Even the first time I read the script, I was blown away, just reading the opening scene. Oh, it’s so hard. Crazy and bloody, and it’s like a roller coaster ride, I would say.
Anita: I’ve seen the movie five times so far and every time I get out of the cinema, I always feel drained. It’s a unique experience when a film can have that effect on you. You like the film. It just drains you emotionally. There’s a lot of emotion in it. And you can understand in a way why the characters do things, no matter how bad but you can understand, which is an interesting feeling as a human being, I think.
AIPT: You’re not just the director. You’re the writer of the movie. What was your inspiration behind it?
Anwar: I’m a big fan of horror films. I grew up with horror cinema and actually the style of the film is an homage to horror films that I grew up with. Indonesian cinema has a very rich history of horror films. And actually back in the ’70s and the ’80s, there were a lot of horror films from Indonesia that were not just good story or horror films, but they’re also psychological horror. This movie is actually a homage to Indonesian horror films from the ’70s and ’80s.
There’s inspiration for the story. I first heard about the shadow puppet made of human skin when I was 11 years old, and I just could not take it off my mind since that. I’ve been trying to find some evidence of the existence of the shadow puppet made of human skin, but so far it’s only a myth. I thought I had to get it out of my head not to be thinking about it. But the story is also about the relationship between parents and children, which is the theme that I always explore in all my films, regardless the genre. I also made one film last year that also revolves around relationship between parents and children.
AIPT: Are you a fan of Tobe Hooper?
Anwar: There’s an homage to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Even the movement of the camera. Every time horror buffs see that last one scene, they were like, “Oh, yeah, Tobe Hooper.”
AIPT: What attracted you three to the script?
Anita: It’s such a good story because it’s actually challenging to find good scripts in Indonesia because we don’t have many film schools, I think probably less than 10 film school all over Indonesia with a population of 260 million people. So it’s really hard to find a good script. And Joko is actually one of the best writers and directors in Indonesia.
Anwar: That’s not true.
Anwar: It’s not ‘one’ of. It’s ‘the’.
Anita: I was trying to be diplomatic. No, but it’s true. What attracted me personally to this is because Joko, I know that he’s a great director and he’s also a great writer. When he writes dialogue, it just feels so natural. The first scene that we shared with Tara, the opening scene, it’s just like bam, bam, bam, bam.
Basro: It’s very casual, but also very real. Because usually in Indonesian cinema, they wouldn’t do dialogues like that.
Basro: I would definitely agree with Marissa.
Anita: It’s like toilets scenes in Indonesian film cannot, I don’t think I’ve seen a toilet seat. Lots of raw scenes. And I think that’s one of the things that attracted all of us into the film.
AIPT: I’m glad you brought that up because that’s one of the questions I had about it, because it is a wild movie. Was it difficult to play down to earth characters? Because they’re very natural very much so.
Basro: I think that’s how it is with all of Joko’s film. He wants the character to be very down to earth, very real. And also what’s the most interesting is that all of the characters have very specific job, daily job. And I don’t know. How did you find inspiration in that?
Anwar: For the daily jobs?
Anwar: I had them all.
Anita: And it was also interesting how we researched. Joko is such an accommodating director because as actors we’re completely spoiled. The first day of reading, he took me and Tara to a mall. Like a low class mall, because that’s where we come from. We’re not rich. We’re from the working class. He actually said, that we wouldn’t get identified by the public, we had to wear hijabs. And then we would just walk around the shops to get the feel of the work that we do. And then we observe the ladies, the sales ladies.
Anwar: How they talk.
Anita: How they talk, how they move, how they joke about, how they banter with each other.
Basro: If you notice, we sound really loud in the film.
Basro: High pitch.
Anita: It’s inspired by the ladies. So we thank the ladies.
AIPT: You had mentioned the themes that are in there. There are a lot of themes in the movie. What do you want the audience to get out of the movie?
Anwar: I think the most interesting thing in a film is characters. So I always try to make my characters interesting because there’s no other way you can make a film feeling experience interesting and exciting and memorable unless you got interesting characters. And of course you get to have a very well written characters, but also very importantly, you have to have great actors to play them. When people walk out of the cinema, I want them to remember the characters and the experiences that this character go through, even though it’s a genre film, horror film, but I think that a lot of elements of the lives of these characters that they can relate to, and ration it within their own experience as well.
AIPT: What was the most difficult scene to shoot and what was the most difficult scene to be in?
Hakim: The most, oh my god. Everything, every scene is difficult for me because 46 years that I’m in the film industry, I always play a woman hero and strong mother, a good mother. Good character. Now this is beyond my imagination. Really, that’s why, as I said last night, that I didn’t ask Joko anymore. I said script writer and director has to go, because I’m sure God knows exactly what that she put me on this project in.
Anwar: Sorry. Christine prayed five times a day, so she’s a very good Muslim. Tell him about the scene where you came inside the room.
Hakim: It the scene when I came into the room of my son, after they make love. I was Ramadan fasting.
Anwar: So I cannot do anything bad that day.
Basro: No drinking.
Anwar: No dirty thoughts.
Hakim: Because he didn’t explain to me just, “Oh, after your son make love,” and then of course he is covered by the blanket, and then I have just to touch the hair and get the hair for the ritual.
Hakim: Okay, that’s fine. And then when I was alone on the set, Joko asked, “Are you fasting?” “Yes. Why?” “Is that okay with the scene?” “Of course,” because he didn’t written in the script that my son will be naked. And then, no rehearsal. Rehearsal, but without naked, with the blanket. So, “Action,” I open the door, I was shocked. Really I was shocked, but I have to keep my expression. I have to keep, so I was shocked and that was likely that I’m already old. On a fasting day I was horny. Can you imagine?
Basro: I think the talk scene was one of the hardest, but also the hanging scene was technically hard. But emotionally hard, I think it was the talk scenes because we had so much going on. We have the cars. We have such a very long dialogue. It was challenging because Joko got sick when we were shooting that scene.
Anwar: I was hallucinating. I was directing them based on a monitor hanging on the wall which is not there. After I recovered, I saw the footage. I was like, “What the hell was this?” We had to reshoot everything.
AIPT: That’s a good excuse. So if there was a bad reaction last night, you could have been like, “Oh yeah, it was a monitor that wasn’t there.”
Anita: I think every role that I take is always challenging because I have to stretch myself into a character that the writer and the director creates. It’s not difficult, but challenging. But I love it though. It’s having your muscles stretched and it’s having your emotion stretched, and your mind stretched. It’s an amazing feeling.