Dragged into a hospital room is a little boy named Tantra. His parents are panicking as they watch him lie unconsciously in bed. Outside, Tantri, his fraternal twin, peeks in terror.
Freshly released Sekala Niskala or The Seen and Unseen captures how a Balinese child deals with grief, loss, and loneliness. The 83-minute film clings into the idea of an overlapping world between the “seen” and the “unseen”, the presence of the divine among the living when death feels near.
Metaphoric attempts are used to show the depth of the twin’s relationship. An early scene shows how Tantri and Tantra share a fried egg. Instead of cutting it in half, Tantri only takes the white, while Tantra only wants the yolk. They feel “whole” only when they are in each other’s presence. So when one day, alone, Tantri finds her broiled egg has no trace of yolk, it symbolizes her loss. It also proves that the film doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable, upsetting emotions, although the plot focuses on children as the main protagonists.
In repeated scenes, Tantri has to deal with the feeling of intense loss and loneliness after her brother gets hospitalized. Director Kamila Andini captures this through the deafening silence that follows Tantri’s steps as she keeps going back to the field behind her house to look for missing Tantra. At times she goes there searching the sky, hoping for a full moon so that she can say her prayers. Full moon in Balinese Hinduism is known as the time when the gods descend to earth to give their blessings. Other times, she dances off her anger.
Her way of dealing with these intense feelings transcends the real and the unreal, blurring the boundaries that separate fantasy from reality.
“As a person who grows up and lives in Indonesia, I feel like we are all holistic beings who are still tightly surrounded by the dualism of myths and reality, both based on our local culture and our religions. So I brought up the twin and their spiritual journey as Balinese,” said Director Kamila Andini (Dini) in an interview with Magdalene following the film’s premiere at Plaza Senayan on March 8.
The characters of The Seen and Unseen speak in Balinese, though the movie contains very little dialogues. Indeed the quietness magnifies the expression, choreography and the visual splendor of rural Bali. It helps connects us to the experience of a child’s grief.
“Actually, I should say that the whole ambience of the movie follows the real character of Thaly,” said Dini, referring to Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih, the child actress who played Tantri. “Her calmness, downtempo, and serene upbringing is the main feel of the film. I could say that I simply follow the tone she brought into the scene, and it’s already perfect."
Dini is also known for her critically acclaimed debut film The Mirror Never Lies (Laut Bercermin), and two short films Following Diana (Sendiri Diana Sendiri), and Memoria. Through The Seen and Unseen, Dini said she intends to propose a new paradigm surrounding storytelling on children.
“When talking about death and loss, children are usually alienated. Other than that, night is also considered as something that is not meant for children. With this film, I really want to explore this. I put the children outside at night; I let them be free in their own world and imagination,” she explains.
Dini added that the film, which took six years to finish, actually follows her own journey from before marriage to now, when she is a mother of two.
“Previously, I only intended to showcase the children. But when I became a mother, I realized that we can’t talk about kids without talking about their mothers. That is why you can also find a piece of me in Tantri’s mother’s character [played by actress Ayu Laksmi]. You can say that this film also represents a transformation of my thoughts and perspectives,” she said.
Dini said the film was initially made as a film project for festivals. Since its first release on September 2017, The Seen and Unseen won the Best Film awards at the Asia Pacific Screen Award 2017, the Tokyo FILMeX 2017, and Berlin International Film Festival 2018, the Generation Kplus International Jury, and Festival Film Asia NETPAC Jogja. It also participated in the Toronto International Film Festival 2017, Busan International Film Festival 2017 and Singapore International Film Festival 2017.
Don’t miss “The Seen and Unseen” [Sekala Niskala] at a nearby cinema!
Watch the trailer