Netflixable? “Photocopier” reminds us that in Indonesia and elsewhere, the Revolution will not be Televised

Justice in a controlling, secretive, theocratic oligarchy can be a slippery thing, and is every bit as fraught as one fears in “Photocopier,” a tightrope-walking thriller from Indonesia.

It’s a film that gives an almost nodding assent to the Muslim country’s assorted moral edicts about alcohol and sex, all while eviscerating the corrupt patriarchy that enforces them.

It’s about a young computer sciences student who strays from the straight and narrow, pays a terrible price for her “transgressions,” and gets in over her head when she tries to figure out how she was “pranked” and “exposed” as a drunk on social media.

All Sur (Shenina Cinnamon) wanted to do was to celebrate with the daring and boundary-pushing theater troupe, Mata Hari, whose website and social media presence she manages as decoration for her resume. Mata Hari’s dance-theater production of “Medusa” won a major award and is bound for a Pan Asian competition in Kyoto, and Sur was a big part of that success.

But Sur, after promising her lazy, bullying Muslim father “no alcohol,” after also promising her photocopy shop pal Amin (Chicco Kurniawan) that they’d leave the wrap party for “Medusa” early, gets caught up in drinking games and general hedonism with the thespians, depicted here as only pretty rowdy, if a lot less transgressive than such ensembles in the West.

The next morning, she’s bawled out by her father (Lukman Sardi) and all but crucified by her scholarship committee, showing up in the same clothes she partied in the night before. The proof is in the incriminating selfies that reveal her lack of “character.”

Sur protests her innocence (in Indonesian with subtitles, or dubbed into English). But the truth is, she was blacked-out drunk. She doesn’t remember getting home, or who brought her. There are gaps in the evening and the “selfies” posted from her phone have technical issues a computer-and-social-media savvy 20something like her would spot.

Kicked out of her house, she moves in with childhood pal Amin over his seedy off-campus copying shop and begins her investigation.

Was she sabotaged? Might the saboteur be the former Mata Hari photographer (Lutesha) who sneered at her, in warning, before she went to the cast party? Could the chain-smoking, sketchy Amin be involved?

Or was it someone from that party, someone with a grudge or some other agenda she can’t put her finger on? If only she could scan their phones.

Indonesian films I’ve sampled in my travels “Around the World with Netflix” generally play out at a slower pace than Western cinema, which is a problem you can’t really dismiss as simple “cultural differences” when you’re making a thriller. That said, director and co-writer Wregas Bhanuteja’s “Photocopier” had me riveted to the “investigation,” the ticking-clock tension of hacking this phone or uncovering that clue in this paranoid thriller.

As you can guess from the movie’s title, one of the culprits in Sur’s undoing might be the piece of tech she screenshots, photographs and videos “evidence” on. Her phone isn’t necessarily her friend. The tech that can track and re-create a ride-share’s route, or summon a world of germane facts (last night’s weather) to your fingertips can also be used for control.

Sur is down a rabbit hole without even realizing it, under the thumb of institutions that no one questions, from university panels and cyber crime police to the omni-present fumigators spraying neighborhoods, as they announce on loudspeakers, to kill mosquitoes and stop a “dengue fever” outbreak.

“Photocopier” doesn’t do the best job of suggesting “Sur’s paranoid and just imagining this conspiracy,” a standard ingredient in thrillers of this type since before “Gaslight” became international shorthand.

But Bhanuteja and his cast immerse us and Sur in multiple worlds she must investigate and keep under suspicion — the cultish “creative” and rule-bending free-spirits of the theater, the hidebound university and those who know hot to bend those rules, and the crypto-fascist state that she may have to rely on for “justice” if she ever figures out what that “Photocopier” might want to tell her.

Rating: TV-MA, violence, sexual situations, alcohol abuse, profanity

Cast: Shenina Cinnamon, Chicco Kurniawan, Dea Panendra, Jerome Kurnia, Giulio Parengkuan and Lutesha.

Credits: Directed by Wregas Bhanuteja, scripted by Wregas Bhanuteja and Henricus Pria. A Netflix release.

Running time: 2:08

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.