Surya’s debut is a charming and unexpectedly gleeful take on the freedom and limits of telling stories, built around a rich if lonely young woman who has a way with violence and deceit.
Dir. Mouly Surya
2008 | Indonesia | Drama/Mystery/Thriller | 90 mins | 1.85:1 | Indonesian
M18 (passed clean) for sexual scenes
Cast: Ladya Cheryl, Donny Alamsyah, Kinaryosih
Plot: When a sheltered young woman becomes enamored with a struggling writer, she goes to great lengths to become involved in his creative process.
Awards: Official Selection (Busan)
Subject Matter: Moderate – Creative Process; Storytelling; Deceit
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
With Fiction, Mouly Surya announced herself as a genuine talent to watch back in the late 2000s. She would make two more features, What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love (2013) and Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017), to date. Co-written with Joko Anwar, Fiction, as its title suggests, is about what’s real and what’s not in storytelling.
Stories of real life and stories of imagined ‘endings’ adorn the film as we become acquainted with Bari (Donny Alamsyah), an aspiring writer struggling to write who lives with his girlfriend in a rented room in a rundown building.
In steps Alisha (Ladya Cheryl, who recently starred in Edwin’s Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (2021)), a rich, well-pampered young woman suffering from a traumatic past, who rents the unit beside them after escaping from an unbearably lonely existence.
“Fiction has an ending, but in the real world, life goes on.”
Surya has fun with her protagonist, treating Alisha as both “the girl next door” and a femme fatale who is hoping for Bari to love and desire her.
The film is a charming and unexpectedly gleeful take on the freedom and limits of telling stories as Alisha, with her unrelenting gaze, and a way with violence and deceit, summons up all the creative (or is it destructive?) energy within her to conjure up an ending for the ages for herself, Bari, his stories, and the film’s audience.
Fiction could also be seen as a film about mental illness and depression where losing touch with one’s reality becomes debilitating even if one might find a temporary sense of purpose and agency.