Grim and Miserable 'Leftovers'

(Indonesia, 79 min.)
Written and directed by Wicaksono Wisnu Legowo
Starring: Ubaidillah, Slamet Ambari, Yono Daryono, Rudi Iteng, Narti Diono
The title for the Indonesian film Turah roughly translates to Leftovers, but the characters depicted in the film are more akin to refuse or discarded scraps. “Leftovers” implies saving something for later, like extra bits of turkey dinner that one reheats and enjoys after Thanksgiving. Scraps, on the other hand, are the straggling bits of unwanted food that one pushes off the plate and into the compost. Scraps are set aside, discarded, and forgotten.

The leftovers, scraps, and bits of social refuse in Turah are the residents of the small shantytown of Kampung Tirang. Their silent leader is Turah (Ubaidillah), who oversees the community like a security guard for Darso (Yono Daryono), the boss man and tycoon behind whatever indiscernible enterprise keeps the villagers marginally employed. This position also puts Turah as the guardian of the camp, for he keeps a watchful eye over his neighbours and knows all the hardships they face.

Particularly troubled is Jadag (Slamet Ambari), whose years of tenuous employment and extreme poverty have taken their toll. Turah’s tours around the camp first let the audience encounter Jadag as he drunkenly berates his pregnant wife Rum (Cartiwi), who, unlike anyone else in the village, has the better sense not to put up with her husband’s crap.

Tension and disenfranchisement brew in the village as Jadag becomes increasingly outspoken about the leadership and power dynamics. Naturally, it doesn’t end well and Turah somberly creates a portrait of societal outcasts who are marginalised, exploited, and discarded for the benefit of few, if any, people.

The film takes a no-frills kitchen sink approach to life in the impoverished community. The hungry aesthetics afford a sense of realism and, to an extent, a layer of urgency, but this minimalist production is dark and hopeless to the point at which it’s nearly unbearable. The low-key, detached, and restrained performances do little to engage emotionally with the viewer.

The miserablism doesn’t offer hope for anyone and there is barely any light to be seen, and this dire outlook seems to be the film’s agenda. The film begins and ends with funeral announcements and the dire cycle feels honest. A Hollywood ending wouldn’t do justice to the communities the film represents.

While Turah has good intentions, one might find it too grim and boring to care. The film is Indonesia’s submission to the Oscars this year and it’s a noble bid to draw attention to a worthy cause, but it’s just too unrelentingly bleak to make it to the podium and give this subject a spotlight. Better luck next year with The Seen and the Unseen!