The thriller genre is such a difficult one to do well. The challenge of maintaining tension while telling a compelling story is one that only the best filmmakers can meet. The Indonesian film Photocopier strikes this balance beautifully, and takes viewers on a journey that will enthrall from the beginning, and will have viewers considering just how broken our society clearly is in so many ways.
Viewers are introduced to Suryani, or Sur (Shenina Cinnamon), a university student who works with a theatre group handling the tech side of their operations. After a drunk selfie of Sur surfaces online, the consequences are immediate. She is evicted from her home by her extremely religiously conservative parents, played by Ruth Marini and Lukman Sardi. She also loses her scholarship that allows her to maintain her status as a student at the university. Her quest to re-create the events of the night in question lead to horrifying revelations and broken trust in those to whom she had always been close.
Right from the beginning, it’s clear that the theater group is the worst of what artists can be. They’re pretentious, and clearly don’t respect those who actually work behind the scenes to enable them to do their job. They are collectively quick to dismiss Sur when she turns her inquiries to them. Without spoiling the ending, the bastardification of the theater as an art form is so nauseating and yet relatable to anyone who has ever had the misfortune of encountering artists with an undeniable air of entitlement.
The dynamic among Sur and her friends is among the strongest elements of this movie. She seeks support from her friend Amin (Chicco Kurniawan), who invites Sur to stay with him as he works as a photocopier for the university. As Sur’s investigation ramps up, however, he eventually snaps at her persistence. He admonishes her with the line, “Not everyone wants to harm you!”. This level of disbelief and resistance to investigating the truth is all too familiar to women in particular in this situation. His character is a sobering reminder of how even the “nicest” men uphold the patriarchy as a default in the name of preserving comfort.
It’s not only the men in Sur’s life who undercut her in her quest for the truth. Her female friends also are reluctant to believe her account of events, and spend much of their screen time discouraging Sur from pursuing the matter further. Her friend Anggun (Dea Panendra) is initially supportive, but ultimately communicates that she finds no value in Sur finding out the truth as it will make trouble. It’s a sober reminder that women do not always stand with one another in the pursuit of justice and can be just as complicit in preventing justice being realized.
Finally, the characters of Farah (Lutesha) and Tariq (Jerome Kurnia) are such brilliantly crafted characters that round out the story perfectly. Both also rebuff Sur’s efforts to uncover the truth of how her drunk selfie made its way to the internet. In the course of the story, both characters also become more intimately involved in Sur’s quest to uncover the truth. They are perfect illustrations of how all of us can become complicit in the systems that hinder justice for women, but how we all individually have the ability to choose to reject that apathy.
Photocopier also does a masterful job at exploring the intersection of religion and feminism. The movie never holds Islam responsible for women being put in positions of not being believed. Rather, it holds a mirror up to us all, and asks us to consider how allowing conservative (and often wildly inaccurate) interpretations of religion impact the most marginalized in any society in which religion plays a central role. The movie focuses on how both the explicitly religious and secular parts of society come together to keep the patriarchy in power.
The ending of Photocopier is far from a happy one, but it’s an all too real reality for too many who seek justice after having their autonomy violated. Farah’s tattoo, which reads, “Even in the darkest hour, I decided to keep fighting” really summarizes the foundation on which this story is built. This film is a poignant and heartbreaking journey that so many will see themselves in. It’s a journey that’s pace is so incredibly even. As each new twist is uncovered, viewers will never lose their connection to these characters that tug at heartstrings in every frame. This is absolutely a story worth telling, and so incredibly topical in our times.
Photocopier is currently available to stream on Netflix.