I am a complete sucker for a good ol ‘forbidden love’ story, and while that is the genre Pria falls into, it is so much more than that. Directed by Yudho Aditya, the 20min short touches on themes of tradition, sexuality, and adulthood, set in a beautiful foreign landscape. Working with these excellent ingredients however, what really sells the film is the elegant, yet restrained direction and sterling performances which create not just a compelling watch, but an intensely personal experience both for the director and his audience.
Aris is a Muslim teenager, living in a small village in Indonesia. With his arranged marriage fast approaching, and his feelings towards his male, English teacher growing stronger, he is faced with some tough decisions. Will he please his overprotective mother and choose tradition and duty or will he instead go with his heart and follow his own idea of happiness?
Pria is lush, warm and compelling, running with a measured pace which allows the viewer to really sink into the narrative and connect with the characters. “I initially started making films mainly for me – for the kid in me that was ostracized, alienated and muted; the kid that never felt like he really belonged anywhere. Ironically, as with the case of making Pria, the deeper I tapped into these insecurities and the more I wanted to explore and understand them, the more I realized how universal these sentiments are.” – Aditya explains in an interview for The Huffington Post.
This deeply personal investment is what makes Pria such a stirring watch. It is also the reason why the director has successfully handled the difficult themes at play, with the lightest of touches, and not allowed those to overpower the film and weaken its impact. Instead of force feeding or dictating his vision, Aditya has opted for a looser approach, often letting the scenes play out uninterrupted by dialogue, giving the narrative air to breathe and the viewer a chance to get to know the characters. An example, and one of my favourite moments in the film, is the scene where Aris dances in his room, without any inhibition, his pure joy almost palpable. This is abruptly brought to an end by the following scene, where we see him getting his hair cut and along with it his freedom and only chance of true happiness. What is remarkable here, is how such a simple and mundane experience, can feel so brutal and soul-crushing. This is all thanks to the clever direction and solid performances and as a result Pria is moving and powerful when it could’ve easily been melodramatic and predictable.