Film Review: “Three Sassy Sisters” (IFF)

Posted on 27 April, 2017

The 12th Indonesian Film Festival (IFF) entertained audiences for another year in April with a fresh array of films. With this year’s theme, ‘Fragments of Time’, the festival explored the cinematic development of the Indonesian film industry throughout the years. Nia Dinata’s Ini Kisah Tiga Dara (Three Sassy Sisters) serves as a homage to the classic 1957 musical film Tiga Dara. AIYA Victoria President Sam Shlansky reviews the 2016 remake.

Songs, soul and sass makes this a fun movie showcasing wonderful Indonesia. As part of the Indonesian Film Festival in Melbourne, I went along to this movie with an AIYA Victoria mate, Ade. It is always great to go to these community events because I get to see lots of friends from AIYA, PPIA and the Indonesian Australia community- there’s just such a nice vibe of kesahabatan here. (Less mush and more movie might be good though, hey!)

This was a really fun film that reimagines an iconic moment in Indonesian cinema. The original Tiga Dara (directed by Usmar Ismail) was a pivotal feminist celebration. It did well in the Indonesian box office at the time and pushed the envelope.

This film follows three sisters who have returned home to help their Dad with his hotel. It is enjoyable getting to know these girls who are all reaching for something. The central and eldest sister is being pushed towards love and family while fighting for independence. The middle child has a lot of the middle child syndrome. Desperately jealous, she demands the central male love interest to spite her sister and despite an old friend. Last and least is the youngest sister. She is a young lover with a handsome blasteran boyfriend. Grandma twists, dances and “ibus” her way through the story. It is a really great film for its focus on women and their character. It is really interesting that the men in terms of character are a trigger (love interest) or a setting (Dad and his hotel) mostly.

Aside from pushing along as a dramatic love story with lots of fun and songs (still in my head), this is a showcase of Indonesia. The setting is beautiful and “Bali” enough to feel accessible to a Western audience. Even more Indonesian is how the boys are basically a pair of hipsters with full on emotions and desires, and they listen (astaga). This adds to the feminist rope tugging this story along. It is a refreshingly complex idea that Indonesia has many kinds of men (the father and his friends are the chauvinistic archetypes we often know) and many kinds of women (the sisters and grandma fit a spectrum). This is a new character of Indonesia that I have met.

This modern celebration of the original film’s feminism trips over by the end. Maybe this reflects certain people’s insight into Indonesia. As Elizebeth E. Pisani says, “Indonesia is the bad boyfriend you keep coming back to.” Truly, this bad boyfriend cuts off its hip manbun and chops down the ideas of female freedom.

Tatyana Akman, Shanty Paredes and Tara Basro (L-R) star in the film. Image: Ini Kisah Tiga Dara

The ending leaves a lot to be desired. Love wins, men win and the film loses something. The magical complexity simply strung together with catchy, cutesy songs ends on a pretty standard note. Each sister finds a jodoh and even Dad does too. Standard dua anak cukup families are ready to be made with Grandma’s blessing. The sun sets over the magical waters of Indonesia as nothing much changes.

Or is it really that boring? Is it really that standard? Is it the film’s fault? The men get rejected in their proposals by their leading ladies… with a promise of “later” that is more than a nanti tossed across a market holder. Dad’s success is surprising, but then he has no actual background or arc so it is kind of a strange moment. It feels standard stuff that love wins and women cannot be independent of some greater structure. The historic Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? kiss gave us this Indonesian film formula that girls will live, and then get a boy.

In the end, Ini Kisah Tiga Dara is a fun film with a few faults but also great songs and ideas to explore. The sass of this movie keeps it going and makes us all laugh. The soul of this movie is modern and fresh. The songs keep it fun and interesting. Overall a great movie to get us thinking about Indonesia… or singing about the matriarchy.