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  • Brandon MacMurray

Moody Review

Mudi, a man in his thirties, and his stepmother Ibu, live alone on a small, isolated, Indonesian island. Their life goes slowly in the rhythm of repetitive tasks like sweeping up leaves on the edge of the golden beach to prepare for visitors. The isolation of Mudi and Ibu from the outside world have made them extremely lonely, each on their own, and they are eagerly awaiting the arrival of enigmatic guests. It soon becomes clear, however, that behind the illusion of an idyllic life hides a relationship that is toxic and full of tension and quarrels. Mudi and Ibu find solace in the music that they play on two portable players that are charged by solar panels. Each of them listens to a different kind of music and experiences it in a very different way. While Ibu silently listens to songs from her past and stares at the sea, Mudi loves to dance and does it in a very expressive, emotional way.

Polish co-directors Karolina Karwan & Tomasz Ratter could not be better suited for the creative and searching form of the anthropological documentary and use their varied backgrounds to great effect. Visual artist, filmmaker, dop, and tantra facilitator Karwan studied Creative Photography and Archaeology, and was awarded the Darmasiswa scholarship, under which she studied music and traditional dance at the Indonesian Institute of Arts in Yogyakarta. Visual artist and cultural anthropologist Ratter also uses his history in Creative Photography as a director and cameraman, and has lived in Indonesia for over two years, where he began work on Moody. The directors’ passion for the subject of their film is evident in its long gestation period—the project was first pitched in Poland at Doc Lab Poland 2016 as part of the “Doc Lab Start” initiative and was shown as a Focus Work in Progress at Cannes 2019. That Moody is finally seeing a release is a testament not only to persistence of these young directors but also to the high artistic quality of the film.

Moody eschews the traditional “talking head” style of documentary and chooses instead to immerse the viewer in Mudi and Ibu’s day-to-day life on their isolated island. The style of the film is reminiscent of the films made at Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, in which viewers learn about diverse places and communities through the sights and sounds of the people and communities as the subject, seemingly without directorial intervention. It is only as Moody goes on that viewers begin to understand that Mudi’s dancing is not just a way to entertain guests, but that he believes he is possessed by a spirit that forces his ecstatic movement. Karwan and Ratter allow Mudi to tell his story in his way, without Western commentary that might view him as schizophrenic.

Ibu secretly tries to cure Mudi by burning the 36th Surah of the Quran, and giving the ashes to him in a drink, but the spirit can’t be expelled from Mudi. It is part of who he is. Mudi continually threatens to leave Ibu alone on the island (“Next time someone comes I’ll go back home with them,” he swears, alone on the desolate and empty beach), but the devotion the two feel to each other keep their fates intertwined. Ibu had promised Mudi’s father that she would always take care of his favourite son, a promise that grows increasingly difficult as his communication with the spirits inside him come to overwhelm their life. “Sometimes at night I hear voices, but no one is there,” Ibu complains, “I really wish I could see them, but they’ve never appeared.” These ghosts don’t reveal themselves to everyone, they choose who can see them, and Mudi has been chosen.

Also working as their own cinematographers, Karwan and Ratter capture a succession of striking images, gloomy shots of sparks drifting from a campfire, a balloon caught in the island trees, fish being gutted, flotsam washing ashore, and a dramatic lightning storm during which Mudi performs his most ecstatic dance. The chiaroscuro effect of campfire-lit black skin against an even blacker sky recalls the baroque images of Portuguese master director Pedro Costa, whose film work similarly finds interest in disenfranchised non-actors. The jaw-dropping images of these two lost souls, alone against a pitch-black darkness, captures their isolation in an incredibly moving manner. This achievement in photography led to Moody being one of only a handful shorts selected to present at EnergaCAMERIMAGE, the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography.

Review by: Joshua Hunt



The short end of the stick: The inferior part, the worse side of an unequal deal

When it comes to cinema and the Oscars it always feels like short films and getting the short end of the stick. Lack of coverage, lack of predictions from experts and an afterthought in the conversation. With this site we hope to change that, highlighting shorts that stick with you, predictions, and news on what is happening in the world of shorts. 

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