Of Love and Eggs (2004)
I'm filled with longing for Opera Jawa, Garin Nugroho's epic musical retelling of a story from the Ramayana, an ancient sacred text in India. The film was commissioned by the New Crowned Hope festival in Austria which celebrated the 250th birthday of Mozart. Tsai Ming-liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone and Apichatpong Weerastehakul's Syndromes and a Century (both to be distributed by Strand in the U.S.) were also commissioned by the series, which was curated by Peter Sellars. Praised by the likes of Johnny Rosenbaum, and not likely to snag a distributor anytime soon, I can idealize it in my head as a masterpiece of visual storytelling without having the nagging annoyance of seeing the film itself. It's fun to yearn.
But when I saw that one of Nugroho's recent works was showing as part of MoMA's Global Lens
series - I pounced. The film is Of Love and Eggs (2004), and it's downright delightful. As intimate as I expect Jawa to be expansive, it focuses on one block of a market square in Jakarta, Indonesia. The block is recreated entirely in the studio, lending the film an artificiality that Nugroho uses to display his idea of community as theatre. To further reinforce this, he takes one of the characters from the film, a deaf girl, places her in front of a colorful mural at the local mosque, and has her sing songs, comment on the themes of the film, and close it out by saying (paraphrased) "Of course there's a happy ending, it's a story."
Inside of this playful self-reflexive frame are the people of the market, and their daily dramas and comedies: they play badminton, pine for the rich girl who lives above the market, bumblingly coax a woman out of suicide, watch footage of an earthquake on TV, and reminisce about the old days. Nugroho knows and loves these people, and his generosity towards them enriches every frame.
There's a pattern of missing mothers, three of the central characters, all children, have lost their mothers and try to replace them with others, or pine patiently for their return. There is also a masterful use of objects - eggs in particular. They serve as capital, weapons, a means of flirtation, and food. In one of the final scenes, a sullen man who had raised his irrepressible brother all on his own, and who had said no more than a few lines the entire film, grunts in assent to cook egg noodles for the rich girl who lives in the new apartment buildings above them. Her radiant smile proves that this was a declaration of love. It's a scene to rival one in the greatest film of them all, when another reticent male proves his love implicitly through an action: John Wayne's refusal to let Angie Dickinson perform her cabaret act in Rio Bravo. There is no greater compliment.