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SENJANG Charms With Its Simple Premise and Earnest Storytelling

21 October 2019

SENJANG Charms With Its Simple Premise and Earnest Storytelling

When life becomes only black and white, some people will be bored with life. What would happen if someone chooses to not be in monochrome anymore?

Director: Niken Nabrita

Cast: Gabriel Alexander, Michael Axel Suwito

Year: 2019

Country: Indonesia

Language: Indonesian

Runtime: 10 minutes


“The world where I live, so full of black and white.” Senjang, a silent short directed by Niken Nabrita, means its opening statement quite literally, with the short awash with blistering monochrome. The world our nameless protagonist inhibits is as cold as its colour scheme, with everybody having to don cardboard boxes over their heads to ‘protect’ themselves against danger. 

What danger? Nobody knows for sure – especially our lead. He conforms with society but yearns for something else. He goes about his humdrum days as a student until he meets a girl who injects colour into his life. 

Sure, to clash monochrome with bright colours to tell a story is not the most original narrative device in the world – Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire comes to mind. I think the contrast of colours signifying love might elicit some eye-rolls as well. Nevertheless, I still found myself enjoying Senjang for its simplicity and bold camera work. It was a lovely short that felt earnest throughout.

Senjang is a love story but not necessarily of the boy-meets-girl variety. Look a little deeper and one could conclude it is a tale about falling in love with artistic expression and breaking away from society’s expectations. When our leads first meet, the boy notices that the girl’s cardboard ‘protector’ has been damaged. 

Perhaps it is exactly of her indomitable optimism that has punched out of the box, spilling onto the world as the vibrant colours that surrounds her. To me, it was an interpretation that added to the short, making it far less hokey than its premise would suggest.

It is difficult enough for a short without dialogue to convey emotions, and its characters’ cardboard faces certainly did not do any favours on this front. The task of storytelling falls on the short’s cinematography and its leads – all of which did a fine job. Without a visage or a voice, lead actors Gabriel Alexander and Michael Axel Suwito are left to express themselves through their body language and miming; I felt it was exactly these limitations that made their time on screen so endearing. 

Their performances are complemented by creative camera work and a fitting score. The camera makes good use of distance to show the closing gap between the two leads. as well the boy’s alienation with his dull world. A particularly beautiful aerial shot happens at about the short’s halfway mark as our characters run through the streets into an open field, all while violins soar in the background. It was apparent to me that a lot of attention was put into every aspect of the short, and this care shines especially bright amidst its homemade, low-budget aesthetics. 

“Earnest” feels like the key adjective I constantly return to while watching the short. Given its premise, it could have very easily devolved into a corny, run-of-the-mill love story, or maybe yet another plain commentary on the monotony of modern life. Instead, the short charms throughout, using the camera as its primary language and taking full advantage of its thematic limitations. Senjang is full of heart and bound to warm even the coldest of souls. 

Watch Senjang here

There's nothing Matt loves more than "so bad, they're good" movies. Except browsing through crates of vinyl records. And Mexican food.