Director: Angga Dwimas Sasongko
Scriptwriter: M. Irfan Ramli
Genre: Drama, Romance
Runtime: 1 hour 38 minutes
‘Surat dari Praha’ ironically reminisces the part of Indonesian grim history through an unknown character who lost his identity yet longing for the place he called home.
Why It’s Worth Watching
Rather than the regular action-themed film capturing heroes clad in national uniform and weapons, Surat dari Praha (Letters from Prague) simply captures the honest, mundane life of a man who happens to be Indonesian forgotten hero and the victim of the state bloody history in 1965.
Given how the story is delivered in drama and romance, the telling of the protagonist’s feelings for striving and all of his sacrifice is more vivid and emotional as it is easily digestible, especially for the younger audiences.
The Tale of a Stateless Man
Imagine you were assigned to study abroad, directly by your president, and half the journey overseas your passport was revoked by the new president. You were branded as a traitor, and going home is the same as suicide. You’ll be the object of mass slaughter.
Needless to say, you are stateless. It is much worse than just having no nationality, you lose your identity and you have to let go of all your friends, family, lover, leaving it only as memories. It does happen within one of the parts of Indonesian grim history, to be exact during the event of G30SPKI.
Five years before the actual event, the first president Soekarno sent many students to study across socialist-communist countries like Soviet Union which at that time became his ally. They were hoped to develop their country soon after they finish the study abroad. The plan failed as Soeharto replaced Soekarno and claimed The New Order, which opposed everything related to communism.
Without a doubt, it affected the students that Soekarno sent. Right off the bat, their passports were revoked and they instantly lost their purpose to be there, along with their contact with all of the people they know. These exiles have been lived helplessly without nationality, even though some are accepted by the country they’re in.
Surat dari Praha brings the part of this event and represents it through the man named Jaya (Tio Pakusadewo), who has lived years after that event and somehow managed to get over. He lives happily in Prague with his ordinary job as a janitor in an opera house; he smokes and drinks with no hesitation; he resides with only his beloved dog in the downtown apartment.
Then a woman named Larasati (Julie Estelle) comes far from Indonesia and knocks on his apartment door. As the last wish of her deceased mother (Widyawati), she must bring a letter and a box directly to Jaya though neither of them knows each other.
Jaya immediately realizes the box contains the letters he sent to his lover years after his imprisonment in Prague and he soon knows that her lover had married another man and now the daughter returns all the letters she never replied.
It is not only Jaya who frowns upon this matter, Larasati eventually learns the identity of the mysterious man and fathoms the very reason why her mother cannot even get along with the rest of her family.
As the harsh reality hits, Larasati is trapped with the ex-exile as she needs shelter after got stolen on the way to her hotel. Afterward, both of them begin to confront and reason with their past as well as the present.
Dealing and Letting Go
Jaya represents the big picture of all the student exiles known as MAHID or Mahasiswa Ikatan Dinas (student bonding service). After his passport was revoked, Jaya has to survive on his own in the foreign land without knowing would he come back.
He ends up being a laborer and takes a solemn vow to love only his lover. He keeps sending his letters to her despite not a single of them being replied. Ironically, one answer letter arrives (after a very long time) by someone he least expected, and by this time his lover has been departed.
Jaya has to sacrifice lots of things besides his lover. He cannot meet his family again as the chance to come home was dismissed. Even the letter that informs his deceased relative is only stated in a letter composed of one concise sentence. He loses all the luxury he may have wanted, even worse he was labeled a communist, a traitor. Yet, he gains the unshaken will to keep living and eventually, the acceptance of his bitter days.
Despite that, once again his will is being tested by Larasati’s arrival. She questions all the romantic letters Jaya insisted to send realizing that he would never get the reply and how it may impact his lover’s life. It does crush Jaya greatly. The same happens to Larasati. Both of them have lost the time they should spend with their loved one.
Thus, highlighting Jaya as the victim of The New Order and how it kills his romance life is a way of catchy play the film brings. Added to that, only a few people take the interest of the ex-exiles since it is treated as a mere shadow of the bigger event known as G30SPKI. It becomes more concerned because Surat dari Praha tells it on the big screen for the first time.
On the other hand, Larasati represents the current generation who pays little interest in their history and emerges the “mind your own business” trait.
Though, at the same time, she cannot be blamed for how he acts towards Jaya. Larasati has personal issues too. She’s just getting a divorce and right after that, she has to give some items to a mysterious man in Prague, only to know the man plays a significant role in her mother-daughter complex relationship.
The movie, however, brings together the contrast between the characters with unconceivable resolution and right at the end, Jaya is left with choices of staying in Prague or back to Indonesia. The answer doesn’t be settled though or the movie deliberately leaves it to audiences’ perception.
It mirrors the choices the exiles pick in real life. A few of them have the opportunity to come home. The remainder changed their nationality and decide to stay for the rest of their lives, although politics have shifted and the false accusation towards them has dissipated.
The movie has its epic moment when the real student exiles come and play in Jaya’s apartment. They give the actual narrative of things that happened to them in a calm and warm manner, accompanied by nostalgic moments as they swing to the old music.
Given how much the movie presents Jaya’s life from the core sources and combines them with romance makes the story more interesting and doesn’t spoil the historical value. Despite that, the conversation between Larasati and Jaya seems stiff since they address each other with polite expressions.
Unfortunately, it becomes a habit in many Indonesian films. Most of the cases can confuse, detain, or ruin the character development as well as causing the interaction a bit cheesy.
It is still a refreshing movie though with a solid story and interaction between different characters. It is added with songs exclusively composed by famous singer Glenn Fredly and played honestly by the main characters.
It somehow delivers a similar vibe to Lost in Translation as it begins with two people getting to know each other. And, the extra goes when you slowly learn the simple, yet valuable things from the abandoned man who supposed to help his country advance.
“Kadang hidup memang lebih sering terisi apa yang tidak kita inginkan, dan kita seakan-akan dipaksa masuk ke dalamnya. Merasa tak punya pilihan. Hingga satu-satunya pilihan yang tersisa adalah diri kita sendiri.”
“Sometimes life is full of things we don’t desire, and we feel we’re forced to get into it. We feel like we have no choices. Until the only option left is our own self.”
A light historic romance that shows the feeling of yearning falls into the abyss and gradually find its way to rise.
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