3 out of 5
Batas tells the story of a Jakartan woman named Jaleswari who works in an institution that sends teachers rural Indonesian areas. For some reason the teachers they sent to a remote village in West Kalimantan, right near the border with Malaysia, seemed could not handle the responsibility and always asked to be returned home. Jaleswari is assigned with a task to investigate the source of the problem and musts hand out the report in 2 weeks. Being an ambitious and efficient Jakartan makes Jaleswari believes that everything shall go on smoothly. But before she even reaches the village she has to face problems starting from the car’s tyre broke in the middle of nowhere.
Arriving in the village, Jaleswari is welcomed by Adeus, the teacher her company had sent. Smart Adeus somehow changed into a pessimistic person, refusing to teach the students. But Jaleswari meets Borneo, a little boy who is eager to be taught new things from his presumably new teacher. Jaleswari also meets the stern Chief Adayak and his kind-hearted wife, Nawara. Chief Adayak teaches Jaleswari to lose her Jakartan way and start listening to the way of the forest, therefore she can understand the people more. She soon finds new and creative ways to teach her students. Along the way, Adeus also starts to regain his spirit back. But Jaleswari’s good intention doesn’t go according to plan. Local trademan, Otig, believes that the only way the village could go further is by sending its people as migrant labours to Malaysia. One of the female workers Otig has sent, Ubuh, managed to runaway from what seemed to be abusive treatment. Ubuh is being taken care by Nawara and slowly regains her trust towards other people.
Batas is a multi-layered film that is heavy with philosophical contents. Jaleswari’s idealism to search things that she couldn’t have in Jakarta drives her to go to the farther side of the country. But she finds out that she’s actually barging into the values believed by the local society. There are 2 main premises in the film; education and migration. These premises intermingle with each other as good educations will be a solution to avoid sending people abroad as migrant labours. But what is most important to remember is the word “batas” (meaning “border” in Indonesian) is merely geographical. The natives have been living together side by side in harmony for generations. After the independence of Indonesia and Malaysia the community is divided into 2 different nationalities by an invisible line. Suddenly things on the other side are better than things on this side.
As multi-layered as it is, Batas manages to be not over dramatic. although it is slow pace and in the beginning there are too many Jaleswari’s inner monologue. Chief Adayak and Nawara provide solid characters; one stand for the values, whilst the other stands for the nurture side. Adeus as the teacher who finally finds himself again seems to be needing more elaboration. Ubuh who barely speaks throughout the film delivers a good performance of an emotionally scarred young woman. Overall Batas offers beautiful cinematography that refreshes the eyes, but somehow tries to be too philosophical and forgets the chemistry between the characters.