‘Photocopier’ review: Indonesian crime-thriller avoids genre pitfalls for pointed social commentary

In director Wregas Bhanuteja’s debut feature, a shy Muslim girl goes on a quest for the truth after compromising photos she doesn’t remember send her life into a tailspin

Following a series of acclaimed short films – 2014’s Lemantun, 2016’s Prenjak (In The Year Of Monkey) and 2019’s No One is Crazy in This Town – one of Yogyakarta’s most promising young auteurs, Wregas Bhanuteja, is finally set to break out with his debut feature. Entitled Photocopier (Penyalin Cahaya), the Indonesian film follows Sur (Shenina Cinnamon), a shy computer science student from a strict Muslim family. During her free time, the freshman volunteers as a web designer for her university’s theatre company, the Mata Hari. To celebrate their latest award-winning production, Sur is invited by the group’s rich playwright, Rama (Giulio Parengkuan), to a party at his house.

Naturally, her conservative parents aren’t keen on Sur going to a party with young liberal thespians, and she only obtains their permission by promising to follow Muslim values and avoid alcohol. But once there, she succumbs to peer pressure to indulge in a couple of drinks, and wakes the following day with barely any memory of what happened.

Things take a turn for the worse when Sur realises that drunk selfies from the previous night have been uploaded to her social media – compromising photos that lead to not only her enraged father disowning her, but the revocation of her much-needed financial aid by the college’s scholarship review panel.

Reeling from her sudden fall from grace and suspecting that she may have been drugged (or worse), Sur is determined to get to the bottom of what happened. Sadly, her school’s faculty and the Mata Hari’s members discredit her claims, while her father only demands that she repent and beg for forgiveness. So she turns to her childhood best friend, Amin (Chicco Kurniawan), who runs a photocopy shop, for help.

Together, they set out to confront the Mata Hari and hack the phones of Amin’s customers in order to piece together the missing pieces of her blacked-out night. In the course of their Veronica Mars-esque investigation, they stumble onto the related case of Sur’s classmate, Farah (Lutesha), who was kicked out of the theatre group some time ago – pointing to a hidden pattern of cover-up and abuse.

Crew member of Indonesian film Penyalin Cahaya Photocopier accused of sexual harassment, name removed from credits
A still from the movie ‘Penyalin Cahaya’ (‘Photocopier’). Credit: Netflix

The problem with most crime mysteries such as this has always been the genre’s preoccupation with glamorising the detective by emphasising the twisty whodunit plot, while leaving the plight of the victim as an afterthought. Photocopier circumvents all that by putting Sur front and centre.

The film unflinchingly focuses on how she copes with her shame and confusion by taking a frank look at the way survivors are treated and disbelieved – and most importantly – by making Sur the agent of her own quest for justice. Photocopier does all this while also delivering pointed social commentary on the disparity in institutional support given to the rich and poor, the patriarchal nature of Muslim families in Indonesia, and the dangers of social media.

The film hinges upon a superbly raw and emotionally vulnerable performance from lead actress Cinnamon, alongside a terrific turn from Lutesha in a key supporting role. Likewise, the creative cinematography, propulsive editing and immersive sound design all combine to craft a palpable sense of nervousness and tension that remains gripping throughout.

That being said, not everything in this film quite works. The appallingly unethical (and illegal) manner in which Sur and Amin dig for clues is excused rather casually, while the film’s theatrically hammy climax involving a kidnapped taxi driver and a supervillainous raid feel out of place and far-fetched in an otherwise grounded narrative.

Three days before Photocopier began streaming on Netflix, its producers publicly acknowledged allegations of sexual harassment made against a member of the crew who they did not name. The allegations pertained to the individual’s past, the production companies Kaninga Pictures and Rekata Studio said, and Photocopier was filmed “safely”, they asserted. The accused was removed from the movie – his name scrubbed from the credits – and the company Rekata Studio.

For some viewers, these allegations will irrevocably tar the film, which is itself about non-consensual photo sharing and sexual assault. But Photocopier’s exploration of sexual violence and accountability in Indonesia remains insightful. This is the rare crime thriller that layers its investigative mystery by shedding light on the human cost of the crime and the obstacles faced by survivors.

Details

  • Director: Wregas Bhanuteja
  • Starring: Shenina Cinnamon, Chicco Kurniawan, Lutesha
  • Release date: January 13 (Netflix)
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