Istirahatlah Kata-Kata: A Film Review

by Tara Nissl January 31, 2017

Istirahatlah Kata-Kata, the critically acclaimed film about poet-cum-activist Wiji Thukul, premiered last week in 14 cities across Indonesia.

The film depicts the period of Wiji Thukul’s life when he was on the run from Indonesian authorities during the Suharto government’s crackdown on intellectuals and activists in 1996. Thukul was forced to flee from his hometown in Solo, Central Java to Pontianak, Kalimantan for eight months, moving houses and changing names to shield his identity.

In May 1998, when he returned to Java to participate in anti-government protests, Thukul suddenly disappeared. His whereabouts are still unknown today.

Istirahatlah Kata-kata

Before director Yosep Anggi Noen’s film, most people knew about Wiji Thukul because of an infamous line from his poem, “Peringatan” ("Warning”). It was supposedly the most-quoted line of poetry towards the end of Suharto’s regime: “Hanya ada satu kata: lawan!” (There is only one word: fight!”)

However, those expecting an action-packed film in Istirahatlah Kata-Kata will be gravely disappointed. Instead, the film is a quiet and poetic take on Thukul’s days of hiding, and explores the more solemn themes of isolation, loneliness, paranoia and fear. It also portrays the difficulties faced by Thukul’s wife and children, whom he had to leave behind in Solo, and who are continuously interrogated by the police.

These are emotions that anyone can relate to, and that we do not typically associate with grandiose heroes. In this way, Noen has humanised Thukul. The result is a moving film about a poet who touched the lives of millions of Indonesians with simple but compelling words.

“The movie is my attempt to see Wiji Thukul’s spirit, who is able to note down his daily life into powerful words,” Noen said in an interview with the Jakarta Post.

He also said during the premiere in Pontianak that he wanted the movie to “serve as a reminder for the young generation about missing activists.” (Jakarta Post)

Wiji Thukul is one of thirteen activists still missing since 1997-1998. The other activists include Suyat, Yan Afri, Sonny, M. Yusuf, Noval Alkatiri, Dedy Hamdun, Ismail, Bimo Petrus, Abdun Naser, Hendra Hambali, Ucok Siahaan, and Yadin Muhidin (Stop Impunity).

Istirahatlah Kata-Kata has participated in various international and local film festivals, receiving nominations in Germany, Switzerland, Russia and the Philippines. It also won the Golden Hanoman Award at the Jogja Asian Film Festival and 2016 Best Film by Tempo magazine.