Netflix: Jatuh Cinta Seperti di Film-Film (2023)

Sometimes, there comes a movie that vivifies everything you know about a genre and you want to give your loudest and heartiest shout-out to everyone you know to watch it. It is the type of movie that coasts along, never making its presence felt, except for a select group of audience. It is the type of movie that the moment it ends you feel so deliriously happy as if you have discovered the cure to COVID-19. I like to think I am a trustworthy barometer of good films, but I am under no illusion that everyone will buy in to what I recommend. Yet, I want to play my trump card now and I am willing to put my reputation on the line for this Indonesian gem of a movie, Jatuh Cinta Seperti di Film-Film (2023).

The movie poster is clever but only if you look harder at it. It introduces the narrative framework – a movie within a movie within a movie. But putting all the principals in a poster and not conveying any notion of what it’s about doesn’t strike me as interesting. The only reason I gave this a shot was because my wifey and I were utterly frozen by Anthony Chen’s The Breaking Iceand we were scouring Netflix for something, anything that would thaw our hearts. The English title, Falling in Love Like in the Movies, intrigued me. I told Choo we will give it 10 minutes and we ended up laughing and marvelling at the gonzo storytelling for 2 hours.

The story is simple – Bagus (Ringgo Agus Rahman), a screenwriter, reunites with his high school friend and crush, Hana (Nirina Zubir), who is still grieving from the loss of her husband. He wants to convince her to fall in love once again, just like in the movies.

The plot isn’t simple – it’s about Bagus getting the bright idea to write the possibly budding love story between him and Hana as it happens, and eventually making the movie. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Bagus’ cockamamie scheme? He would like to think so but the path of true love is often treacherous.

Writer-director Yandy Laurens knows movies and most definitely loves rom-coms. Jatuh Cinta Seperti di Film-Film feels like a love letter to rom-coms. The script is very self-aware of the myriad components that make up a rom-com and even delineates the movie into these components. It is always aware of how in rom-coms the music score flourishes at a pivotal scene, how the protagonist can speak eloquently even through a paroxysm of pain or how true love must be tested, but Laurens has so much fun deconstructing the scenes to give us a fresh take on the ubiquitous rom-com scenes. The movie is also about the love of filmmaking and it will let you see a scene from different angles, allowing you to experience a pivotal scene from different perspectives. A good example is the meet-cute and later on we see the same meet-cute from Bagus’ perspective as he directs the scene with Dion Wiyoko and Julie Estelle playing him and Hana respectively and this will be the instance he realises how brash he was in the way he has treated Hana. Gone is the lovey-dovey sentiment he had initially and in comes the realisation of how he has betrayed her – a beautiful collision between reel and real life.

Laurens loves playing with the visual grammar – the black and white sequences which take up 90% of the movie belongs to Bagus’ imagination and also the film he is making, the split-screens to show the chasm between Bagus and Hana, the cool flourishes in film edits suggested by Bagus’ colleague and friend, Cheline (Sheila Dara Aisha) who is the partner of Dion (did you get the Celine Dion joke?) and also how the coloured frames are sometimes boxed up seemingly to suggest that in real life affairs of the heart are more constricted unlike in reel life where the imagination knows no bounds. Bagus in all his child-like view of love is able to map out a whole lifetime with Hana in his head, which is a page out of how I fall in love.

That said, a film about filmmaking can turn gimmicky like but this gem never falls into that trap mainly because of Bagus and Hana’s chemistry. When they talk and laugh you can feel the weight of history they had had with each other. Rahman isn’t the most good-looking lead but his heart is sincere even if the way he goes about trying to win Hana’s heart is questionable. Nirina Zubir is the scene stealer here, so unassuming and delicate. The sadness behind her eyes is so palpable. When she laughs at Bagus’ silly comebacks you have a feeling she doesn’t allow herself to be happy very often. I love how they counterpoint each other and the reversal of their roles – his head is always in the clouds, while hers is always on the ground.

Jatuh Cinta Seperti di Film-Film is not the most conventional in terms of structure, at times running amok with a sense of adventure but it fulfils all expectations when it comes to a great romantic comedy. The movie finds a sweet spot, effectively balancing the comedy with the drama, and even manages to throw in some meta bits about the nature of romantic comedies. There is nothing radical in the trajectory of Bagus and Hana’s romance, but there is an earthy authenticity in the way both characters handle their predicament as opposed to the one that usually happens in reel life. Both the characters are well-written, both transcending the level of stereotyping they could most easily have fallen into. This is the type of story idea that Hollywood will eventually acquire the rights to but know that it happened here.

Watch. This. Movie…… Now.

4.5 / 5