The Indonesian classic After the Curfew proves that the disillusionment that followed freedom from foreign rule was not restricted to India. Made by pioneering director Usmar Ismail, the aptly-titled After the Curfew takes its place among the post-colonial cinema industries that were springing up in parts of Asia in the 1950s.
In India, directors such as Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt were weaving chronicles of disquiet around troubled young men who were out of sync with society. After the Curfew (1954) drew on Usmar Ismail’s own experiences during the movement for freedom from Dutch control. The film, which has been restored by World Cinema Foundation, is available on MUBI.
After the Curfew is set in 1949, the year of Indonesia’s independence. Ismail’s screenplay is set over the course of two days, during which a former soldier learns a shocking truth that brings his past actions into question.
Iskander (AN Alcaff), recently discharged from the military, arrives at his fiancee’s house with a vague plan to rear chickens and clear signs of what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. Iskander has not overcome the memory of having killed Dutch collaborators while he was in the army. Peacetime agrees badly with this angry young man, who is neither suited for a desk job nor dissolute enough to become a hedonist like a former colleague.
Iskander’s spirited fiancee Norma (Netty Herawaty) is his staunchest ally, defending him from her father’s cynicism. Another woman, the prostitute Laila (Dhalia), opens Iskander’s eyes to the seedy worlds that lie beyond Norma’s swish set.
What price, freedom? The title derives from a curfew that is in place to quell the remnants of revolutionary feeling. As Iskander learns, one order has been replaced by another. In Norma’s house, the curfew is an excuse to party all night. On the deserted streets outside lie the realities of a newly decolonised country: poverty, corruption, doubt, a moral vacuum.
Through pointed exchanges and sharply written scenes, Ismail beautifully distils the experiences of an entire generation. The film’s plain staging and jerky editing have not aged well, but Ismail’s powerful writing and the committed performances are surely timeless.
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