Director Makbul Mubarak challenges how far loyalty will go in his debut film, Autobiography. A confident film that never loses its way, strengthened by two strong performances from its leads.
A young man working as a housekeeper in an empty mansion. When its owner returns to start his mayoral election campaign, the young man bonds with him and defends him when his campaign is vandalized, setting off a chain of violence.
Power is the central theme here in Autobiography, whether it is Purna trying to force his power onto Rakib to show his dominance to the young housekeeper who is in desperate need of a father figure in his life. To Rakib himself, trying to garner what he has learned to try and climb from his lowly position to the highest possible. Loyalty is a key commodity in this world, and Purna will expect nothing else but it for Rakib to stay by his side. Through his two characters, Mubarak effortlessly shows us the struggle that has been going on in his country for decades. The poor and oppressed what to rise up, but it is difficult to do so when the boot of those in power is firmly on your neck.
Mubarak marks himself as a director to keep an eye on with his feature debut, blending socioeconomic and psychological storytelling to give us two characters whose power dynamic switches continually is immensely interesting. He knows to keep his story as straightforward as possible to allow the performances and feel of the film to take centre stage.
Couple this with the lowkey performances from his two leads, Kevin Ardillova may not say much in the film, but his eyes are telling numerous stories; when asked questions, we see the cogs turning later into the film, Rakib making sure he does or says exactly what he needs to. By allowing us to see this in his facial features, we see the type of man he is becoming, thanks to Purna. Those last few shots of him are almost spinetingling, he has accepted who he is now, and in those moments, you fear him.
With Arswendy Bening Swara, we see a man trying to hold onto power, or what power he thinks he has and is unable to handle the fact that those outside of his grip are unwilling to respect him in the way that he wants. So when he meets Rakib, he sees someone he can control and a person he can meld in his own image. He knows he is an older man, but he wants what he has created, his world, to continue. Not for those who disrespect him to take it all away.
These two performances are the true rock of Autobiography; they do so much while simultaneously doing so little. They captivate you as you try to figure out who will come out on top and in what condition they will; for one thing, is certain, the status quo between the two has forever been altered.
One of the other main strengths of Autobiography is the visuals; the desaturated nature of the film provides a grim feel to proceedings. Purposely dark, we are never allowed to settle with these characters; an ominous tone is ever present as our characters fling themselves down an unreturnable well further into the dark. Even when the characters are in what should be bright outdoor surroundings, a cloud hangs over them, one that may never be lifted.
When Autobiography reaches its inevitable violent end, we finally get a moment of relief from the tension that has been building for almost 100 minutes. The last remaining question that the film leaves us with is whether this story eventually comes full circle down the line, or is change, an actual possibility? Regardless, Mubarak has delivered a strong and memorable film.
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