Tabula Rasa [Indonesian Movie Review]

Director: Adriyanto Dewo

Scriptwriter: Sheila Timothy

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 1 hour 46 minutes

‘Tabula Rasa’ brings together both a man and a group of people from different islands and encloses them with value and tenderness through the struggling business of a Padang restaurant.

Why It’s Worth Watching

Tabula Rasa embarks the concept of plurality and social issues while elegantly combines them with the sensation of local cuisines. It confronts two different ethics from west and east yet surprisingly unites them out of their similarity. It all comes together from the bewitchment of foods that eloquently used within.

Padang Foods from the Hands of A Papuan

Like a human being, foods hold their own identities. They’re often linked to where they’re come from, what’re their purposes, and who makes them. Commonly, people would identify these things first before the actual taste.

Tabula Rasa sufficiently presents these questions to the story. The idea mostly sets to the cooksthe people who make the food in the first place and the value they bring to the food as it is more than a mere source to keep people alive.

As the movie begins, we are shown the main character named Hans (Jimmy Kobogau) an orphan, an older brother, a young man from Serui, Papua, east of Indonesia is happily serving meals for his peers. Hans loves soccer and he gets the offer to play it professionally in the capital city Jakarta. Ironically, he has to bury his dream as he gets his leg injured.

Without other specialties and no families in a foreign land, Hans has to languish the life of a vagrant. After reaching the limit, it leads him to attempted suicide. However, he fails the shot and lies on the spot.

The next morning, a middle-aged woman who called herself Mak (Dewi Irawan) finds him unconscious and decides to invite him over. He then sits in the woman’s house, which happens to be a small Padang restaurant, and is treated a special dish cooked by the woman. It instantaneously fills him with warmth and enjoyment he doesn’t feel for a long time.

From that very moment, Mak starts to develop an interest in him. She wants to take him off the street by employing him to her family business as well as giving him shelter in her house. Although Natsir (Ozzol Ramdan)the other member from the service areadoesn’t show any reservation, the cook himselfParmanto (Yayu Unru)states the other way. He frantically objects Mak helping a vagrant, given their financial status and his skepticism toward everything about Hans.

Parmanto’s resentment over Hans culminates in his choice to leave the business. Afterward, Mak appoints Hans to become his replacement since she had tested his capability of making food before. 

Hans’ journey starts over again. This time not on the soccer field he had been hoping for but the small kitchen of an ethic restaurant from west Indonesia.

Tabula Rasa Image 1 Movie Review

The Change of Path and Heart

Hans’ turn of events is pretty ironic. He crosses from Papua to Java to achieve his soccer dream and somehow, he ends up beneath a frail home that happens to cater west Indonesian food, as the exchange of his broken leg that was supposed to bring him a fortune.

Mak and the rest of the crews’ reason to migrate is also saddening. They were forced to move to Java after their homeland Sumatra was struck by a massive earthquake. They come out making a living by selling their food on the outer side of the capital city. Though the business doesn’t bring much income, they still do fine.

It’s true that they can hardly afford to hire an extra person to work in their small restaurant. Despite that, Mak insists Hans taking on the job although at the first time she just rewarding his work with only meals, not money. 

There is a reason for Mak’s eagerness to take Hans away from the street. This is more than just a result of pity when Mak finds him lying on the street. There is a powerful cause behind Mak letting himself eating the dish she specially made, and it exists in that very dish she serves him.

Tabula Rasa certainly entwines the relation between food and all the characters within. As the family who must depart from their homeland, the daily life of Mak and the crews deeply depends on their local cuisine. It pulls the strong connection as it embodies their journey in the foreign land as well as the memory in the homeland.

Their journey goes at a great distance when Hans makes his entrance to their lives. The man that geographically and culturally opposite from them is poised to learn cooking their dishes. There are satisfying moments behind Hans’ involvement in the business. Despite the downer after Parmanto’s abrupt resignation and all the effects it shadows afterward, Hans’ tenderness and passion affect others and gradually become a turning point.

At last, the movie imparts its conclusion of the fate that brought them together. Mak pronounces the sincere words that resonate Hans’ feeling. She whole-heartedly accepts this complete stranger as the new part of her. Hans, moreover, finally acknowledges his failure and is willing to start over again as he discovers his new purpose.

[SPOILER ALERT] The fun fact is, at the end of the movie, Hans takes a different route when he’s doing his usual walk out of the restaurant, from the usual right direction to the left direction. During the interview, the producer and the scriptwriter Sheila Timothy said that it becomes a culture in Papua. When the people are going out, they always follow one specific direction whether it’s left or right. It turns out to be a symbol when Hans changes his perpetual route, suggesting he’s ready to open up his new life.

Tabula Rasa Image 2 Movie Review


“Hans. Terima Kasih, ya.”

“Hans. Thank you.”


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A show that proves any food can be made by anyone and serenity can be simply found on a plate of food.


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