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Original title: Surat Untuk Bidadari
Directed by: Garin Nugroho
Runtime: 118 min
Language: Indonesian, Sumbanese with English subtitles
Rating: NC16 (Some Violence and Disturbing Scenes)
This film was the first to be shot on Sumba island, one of the last bastions of pre-Hindu animism. Made with help from locals, this fairy tale follows Lewa, a boy who believes in an angel that looks after the earth. Having lost his mother early, Lewa writes to the angel for answers, but is frustrated with the lack of reply. When a tourist gifts him a Polaroid, Lewa looks for his mother through this new medium. However, his incessant photography unexpectedly brings disaster to the island. Adapting a story then banned under Suharto, the film shows traditional Indonesian society to be at odds with modernity, its mix of folk music and experimental electronica heightening the sense of culture clash.
YOUNG CINEMA COMPETITION.
Tokyo International Film Festival 1994
GOLDEN CHARYBDIS (Best Feature Film)
Taormina International Film Festival 1994
Garin Nugroho’s second feature film was the first to be shot on Sumba, one of a chain of islands comprising the Nusa Tenggara group that stretches from Bali to Timor. While the film was inspired by a trio of foreign sources (Gregorio López y Fuentes’ A Letter to God, Lao Hsing’s A Village Boy Leaves School, and Albert Camus’ The Stranger), it serves as a record of Sumbanese culture and traditions in a period before the expansion of tourism in the late-1990s. The film was made with extensive cooperation from the local population, whose rituals and ceremonies were re-enacted by the villagers for the film. A landmark work in Indonesian cinema, Letter to an Angel has been an inspiration to recent generations of Indonesian filmmakers. Most notably, its screenplay provided Mouly Surya with the premise for her widely-acclaimed festival hit, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017).
Asian Film Archive’s restoration of Garin Nugroho’s Surat Untuk Bidadari was made possible using two surviving 35mm release prints, one from the collection of Sinematek Indonesia, and the other from the Japan Foundation that contained English and Japanese subtitles. After inspection and comparison, the print from the Japan Foundation was found to be a complete version of the film and was used as a secondary source to replace missing frames from the Indonesian print. The print from Sinematek Indonesia was also affected by dirt, shrinkage and numerous thick scratches on the emulsion and base of the material.
The film was scanned and restored in 4K resolution by Éclair Cinema in 2018 and completed in 2019. The restoration work included scratch removal, stabilising, deflickering, and colour correction. Additional audio processing, including the removal of noise, clicks and hums, was also carried out to ensure a better auditory experience.
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