We have Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie to thank for in coining that Little Red Dot term for Singapore, which was meant to be derogatory, but as it turned out, it became a nice little moniker that we use from time to time with a certain degree of endearment. Given this biography of the man, based upon his memoirs, I'm now more inclined to think that he was not dismissing our country, and that it was all an honest mistake in having himself misinterpreted. After all, this movie turns up the praise of a man portrayed to have grown from the school of hard knocks, with determination and an impressive professional track record, before being called on to lead the country during times of turmoil. All that within what is essentially a love story.
Aptly titled Habibie and Ainun, director Faozan Rizal firmly put the spotlight on this central relationship, which could be anyone's love story for its struggles, romance and celebration of a union between two people, charted over more than 5 decades to the matrimonial vows of till death do us part. With the real BJ Habibie's inputs during the production process, Faozan assures the audience of authenticity of the highest degree, where we follow the charming courtship of Ainun, share and peek into Habibie's ideals and prime motivation in life, and follow his career both in Germany and Indonesia where he rose to become a prominent engineer and businessman.
Actor Reza Rahadian nailed all the mannerisms of Habibie just right, from the limited news reels I've seen of the real man from time to time on television, so it's not hard to compare how, in biographical films, the leading man disappears and on comes his persona of the person he's portraying, down to that hearty laughter. Bunga Citra Lestari as Ainun was a little bit wasted in character though, because it became a tale of two halves for the character. Starting off as immensely likeable and independent, her role once she becomes a wife, somehow took a backseat, as if mirroring and in parallel to some aged old Asian tradition of the dutiful wife who stays in the background rather than continuing in her independent ways. Or at least that's not how the film had the character come across.
And given that it's a love story, expect nothing more than the usual cliches at various points of the story, from wooing teenagers, to a young couple, then that of a couple whose marriage is rock steady and at maturity, before finally touching on the notion of how the difficulties every couple will face when called upon to make decisions to let go, especially if it deals with one's soulmate and likely best friend for decades. It dabbles with his work in Germany as well, and the inevitable brush with corruption when back in Indonesia, which is something so sensitive, it got brushed aside very quickly, attributed to a nasty and shady businessman.
But as much as the timeline involves key markers in Indonesia's history, that inevitably ties in with Habibie's short lived presidency, this was breezed through very conveniently and quick, leaving the audience with little to know of the key policies when he was in power. This is not the tale, unfortunately for it would make it quite definitive and complete, that deals with that aspect of his life, but perhaps left for another filmmaker, for another film. Here, the story is firmly set on the couple, with everything else being peripheral if it doesn't further develop the relationship between them. Habibie's crowning glory in Indonesia's aviation industry took centerstage as well because of exactly that, while even his family with his two sons taking an obvious back seat with their token roles, if only to paint that he had a functional family to speak of, besides his wife.
Easily one of the first narrative films that puts the spotlight on a prominent political figure in the region, Habibie and Ainun provides that personal look at the private life of a man and his wife, which I'm sure many other political leaders in this region, for our young modern history, would have similar stories that can be easily translated to the big screen. In Singapore there's the 1965 movie project that's now perpetually stuck in production hell, but I suppose all we need is a filmmaker with courage to put LKY's well known love life, which he recounted in his own memoirs as well, for the big screen. A likely blockbuster success, if done with the right cast, since it would likely draw about 60% of our population to the cinemas.