Eric D. Snider

The Shape of the Moon (documentary; Indonesian/Javanese)

Movie Review

The Shape of the Moon (documentary; Indonesian/Javanese)

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: B

Released: January 22, 2005


Directed by:

The timing of "The Shape of the Moon" is coincidental and probably fortuitous, as far as the film is concerned. It is a documentary about a Christian family living in the world's largest Muslim nation -- the nation of Indonesia, which since Dec. 26, 2004, has been the focus of the world's humanitarian efforts after the devastating events there. Some of the places shown in this film no longer exist. How's that for putting the film's characters in perspective?

But in many ways, the recent tragic events make the film more compelling. Though the Christians are occasionally the focus, the movie is mostly a slice-of-life piece on Indonesia itself, as director Leonard Retel Helmrich draws us vividly into a world most of us have never seen. It humanizes an exotic, faraway place -- a crucial thing to do at a time when people are considering donating money to help that place.

Helmrich paints a picture of squalid living conditions, starving alley cats, and fervent anti-U.S. protesters amidst the ordinary devout Muslims. The local newspapers warn of the threat of "Christianization" -- a threat probably more real than imagined, but one that might inflame anti-Western attitudes even further.

In the midst of these Muslims lives Rumidja, an elderly widow who practices Christianity quietly and humbly with her adorable young granddaughter Tari. She donates money to the local mosque during a fundraising drive, and she even incorporates some Muslim traditions into her life. She has the appearance of someone who was born Muslim and subsequently converted to Christianity, though we are not told whether that's the case. Rumidja's son Bakti isn't particularly spiritual in any direction, but he does finally convert to Islam so he can marry his Muslim girlfriend. (Probably not the best reason, but better than not doing it at all, right?)

The "Christian in a Muslim Land" angle doesn't get the attention it deserves, but the film excels at bringing us graphically into this foreign land. We see characters doing mundane things like eating and sleeping, and while those scenes aren't particularly interesting separately, they combine to make Indonesia an unforgettable, tragically real place. It is an engaging travel brochure for a place most of us would never want to visit.

Grade: B

Not rated, probably PG-13 for brief partial nudity

1 hr., 32 min.; Indonesian/Javanese with subtitles

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This item has 3 comments

  1. Zita Rasid says:

    This was one of the best documentaries I have seen. The DOC channel has been great for showing these types of programs.

    My parents were born in Indonesia and my mom gave birth to me in Bandung in 1948. We fled to Netherland in 1954 as Indonesia had gained their independence from the Dutch and Sukarno was now the new leader. I have not been back since that time. We were forced to leave as we were not pure Indonesian, my mom being Indishe (mix of Indonesian and European) and my father was a full blooded Turk. The Dutch build the schools, hospitals and roads but rightfully, the islands belonged to the Indonesians. The conditions that the Indonesians are now forced to live in, is pathetic. At one time, this was a beautiful paradise. My parents and so many other Indishe people reluctantly left for Netherland or Australia, for they loved the country and its' people. My family have wonderful memories of the beautiful island of Java and to this day, we still continue to speak a little Malay and enjoy our rijst tafel .

  2. kompilated says:

    "She has the appearance of someone who was born Muslim and subsequently converted to Christianity, though we are not told whether that's the case."

    This documentary is sending wrong message about Indonesia to the world.
    I'm Indonesian and was born in Roman Chatolic family, Our family hold Christian religion since 5 generations ago. Our skins and appearances just like Rumidja's Family but our Economic status is so much better than Rumidja's family's. So many Christian Indonesians are successful and believe it or not some of them are famous ARMY Generals.

  3. Charlotte Straver says:

    This was probably the worst documentary I have ever seen. It made no sense at all. It seems like the filmmaker tried to do everything in order to cut corners; produce, direct, write. The script was terrible. It was hard to follow the story, it was so incohesive and scattered and completely boring. Some of the technical shots were good, but it was irrelevant. As an audience it lost my attention the first 15 minutes. There was nothing to sustain my desire to watch it. I also agree about sending the wrong message about Indonesia to the world (Kompilated June 9, 2009). Portraying a society outside of one's own should be balanced. My heritage is Dutch-Indonesian. I still have Christian relatives in Indonesia and they are not poor.

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