Adam Cook checks in from Montreal to report on One Day When the Rain Falls and finds its three stories of an Indonesian family awkwardly stranded between realism and formalism.
Ifa Isfansyah’s One Day When the Rain Falls (Rumah dan musin hujan) begins, unsurprisingly, with a shot of the rain pouring down at night. But also in frame, symmetrically centered, is a group of people at a dinner table playing a game. Quickly, we catch on that one son, Raga, has brought his new girlfriend, Sukma, home to meet his father, younger brother Ragil, and sister Ade, at a fast-breaking dinner. Everyone is smiling, playing along: this is a happy family. Sukma embarrasses herself, but the father doesn’t seem to mind: this is a welcoming family. But then, the sister abruptly goes outside and leaves quickly after, as do Raga and Sukma. At this point it feels as if the film could follow any of these threads: it could become a romantic-drama between Raga and Sukma, or perhaps it could follow the apparently displeased Ade home, or the story could stay situated in this home with the father and youngest sibling. Indeed, it does all of these things in succession, essentially conjoining three thirty-minute short films, centered on each of these sets of characters.
Firstly, the film hones in on Ragil and the father. After opening the film on a jovial note, Isfansyah strips away the details of that first shot — the people, the rain, the game — until all that remains are empty rooms, photographs, furniture. That instantaneous loneliness that can set in the moment your loved ones depart for their private lives away from yours, articulated rather effectively with static images. Ragil and the father return to their quiet lives: the son chats online, reads from the Quran, writes helpful notes for his forgetful father to post around the house (how to turn on the computer, operate the DVD player, etc.) while the old man watches old home movies of his children. The happy home presented in the opening sequence is revealed to be a melancholy one wrapped in nostalgia. The naturalistic exchanges between Ragil and his father are endearing in their simplicity, be they about bringing girls home or the absent mother of the family who we learn has recently left. This casual, curiously aimless series of sequences eventually boils into a quick surprise, just as the next two ‘shorts’ will do — an unfortunate case of gimmickry.
The next two sections are not as successful, both of them too broad to be taken seriously and too forced to simply enjoy. Awkwardly stranded between realism and formalism, Isfansyah’s style is too wavering to sustain a mood beyond the film’s strong opening. Fluent in film language and a competent entertainer, it’s no wonder that his last film, The Dancer (Sang penari), was Indonesia’s submission to the Oscars. However, beyond his obvious initial talents and tonal playfulness (construable as messiness), as a filmmaker Isfansyah lacks either the urgency or humour to entirely fulfill his ambitions.
The film’s clearest set of ideas do hold together. In shifting from the father and son to the daughter and mother and finally to the couple, One Day When the Rain Falls creates an emotional mapping of kin that at least partially deconstructs the compartmentalized relationships that make up a family. In part, the tonal shifts in the filmmaking match the distinctions between the family members and their separate lives and experiences. At the end, we return to the dinner table, recontextualized with the secrets and surprises one would find in the members of most any family, if you followed them home after supper.
Adam Cook is a freelance film critic, with bylines in Cinema Scope, Filmmaker Magazine and La Furia Umana among others, as well as being an editor, programmer and regular contributor for MUBI.com. He has been part of the International Screening Committee for the Vancouver International Film Festival since 2010. Follow him on Twitter: @AdamCook