TW: Sexual assault

After finding out about how one of the writers of this film is a sexual predator (Henricus Pria, name erased from credits), it’s hard not to notice how Penyalin Cahaya is mostly masturbatory trauma porn. I’ve worked in both theatre and tech (and had strict parents) and could see myself in Sur--there are moments that could be very triggering for no reason. The film is defined by moments where the patriarchy asserts itself into survivors of sexual assault, whether it be Sur’s dad controlling the women in the family, the scholarship board yelling to Sur’s face, and the fogging scene near the end. These moments go on for too long, and too excruciating--so much so that it feels like the grifter writing this film is wallowing in self-indulgence. Sure, there are scenes where we learn about the stories of survivors and moments of self-actualization, but these moments are too short and too small compared to those self-indulgent masturbatory scenes. Even the powerful ending couldn’t wipe the bitter taste of these scenes.

The way this film is framed is also from a very exploitative gaze. Penyalin Cahaya is a whodunit--the viewers are led to think that what’s important in this film is who did this to Sur. The way the perpetrator itself is set up as if he’s the “final boss” of Sur’s journey feels like he’s some villain out of a superhero movie and it pains me to imagine this film’s predator writer thinking about the elaborate scenarios of the film’s perpetrator. Where other films/shows written by women/survivors of assault with this storyline (for example: I May Destroy You) focuses on the legitimate stories of the survivors and lives inside the emotional space of the survivors, Penyalin Cahaya reveals so little about Sur outside of her assault -- it feels like the film defines Sur by that incident. We see Sur investigating the night she was assaulted, but the film rarely visits her internal conflict. How does she feel about all of this? How is she managing her trauma? The film rarely spends time dissecting these questions. All we get are masturbatory scenes where Sur is constantly berated and degraded.

Again, as a woman in tech who has worked in theatre during high school & college, I can see myself in Sur. I can see how the field of performing arts, such as theatre & film, can be a hot breeding ground for sexual harrasment & assault (I’ve experienced working with one of them in high school, which was one of the reasons why I left theatre). However, most importantly, I can see how these grifters & predators would make a film like this -- I can definitely see that person I worked with in high school making a film like this. Sexual assault is not a trend to jump on -- in Penyalin Cahaya, it has been created into a commodity for the “high art” film industry crowd. It’s wrapped in beautiful mise-en-scene, cinematography, score etc, but if an anti-sexual assault story is written masturbatorily by a sexual assaulter himself, this film feels more like a fuck you than high art.

Solidarity to the victims of Henricus Pria. I hope all sexual predators, especially who hide under the guise of familial bonds in film & theatre, ESPECIALLY those who end up being grifters and capitalize on the issue of sexual assult itself, rot in hell.

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