Currently still awaiting international distribution, The Forbidden Door was one of my personal favourites from London Film Festival 2009. From the archives, here is a brief chat with the film’s surprisingly jovial writer-director, Joko Anwar.
Was there any personal inspiration for the story?
Though based on a book, I rewrote the whole story and I put my signature: pregnant woman in distress. I’m always puzzled why would people have babies simply because everybody else is doing it. Especially in Indonesia. Too many children with no plan from the parents on how to raise them. But I say that about The Forbidden Door only if I’m pressed to answer the question if I have anything to say about the film. I just wanted to make a fun movie. My mom kept telling me to make movies like my first one, Joni’s Promise, a romcom. But after my debut, what I directed or wrote were movies about a gigolo with the biggest dick, rich kids who love to screw trannies, and an insane girl in Alice in Wonderland outfits. I told her The Forbidden Door was a fun family movie made for kids. She took my little nephews to watch it and she was furious.
The film has so many angles, I found myself wondering if you played it by ear at all.
I’m always faithful to my script when I shoot it. But I guess it depends on what kind of movies I make. The Forbidden Door is very controlled. But I also plan to make a movie based on improvisations with no script. That would be fun, too.
The Herosase club doesn’t feature in the book. How did you come up with that concept?
I don’t know if such club really exist but I would love to be a member if it is. [laughs] I can’t recall what inspired me to put it in. When I write a script, ideas just flowing. That’s why I love writing. Maybe that’s how it feels when you do ballet like in Billy Elliott. If I could choose as what I could reborn with, I wanna be a ballet dancer. [laughs]
There are arguably several different endings; it’s a film very open to interpretation. Was that your intention?
The movie definitely has one ending only. And it’s really not complicated to find it once people see the hints. It’s not complicated at all. It’s just playful. I want people to come up with my intended conclusion, but it wouldn’t be as much fun if it’s too easy. One guy got exactly what I meant and he posted it on his Facebook. I begged him to delete it. He did. And we become good friends since.
Would it have been more violent if you could have got away with it? I know you ran into problems with the censorship board.
I don’t think so. I love violence in movies but I hate it when it’s just there for shock value only.
What are your thoughts on modern art? The sculptures and foetuses seemed a good way of poking fun at it…
Oh, I wasn’t making fun at all at it. But I always make fun of religions and moralists. It’s very much needed in a country like Indonesia. [laughs]
Regards Indonesian filmmaking, is there a horror movement we should keep an eye out for?
I wish I could recommend some movies from Indonesia. People here make films because they happen to be close with the producers, investors, not because they have talent. Indonesian horror movies especially have been very disappointing. Cheap, dumb, and no fun. But there are some names who have made one movie and show potentials.
What are you working on now?
My next projects are written on the neon sign at the theatre scene at the beginning of the movie and the name of the streets in The Forbidden Door. One of them is a slasher called Modus Anomali. Other titles include 24 Frames per Heartbreak a.k.a. Masturbation as the Perfect Cure for Insomnia, a comedy and Eksekutors, about five young people killing off politicians in Indonesia.
Finally, who are your influences?
I love Kubrick because he always made different films. Also Alan Parker for the same reason. I’m truly a film buff. I like all genres. That’s why it’s impossible for me to do only one genre. The Forbidden Door is actually a homage to American TV series in the 60s. Hence, the lo-fi opening titles. I also love Lynch. But I guess my favourite director today is Paul Thomas Anderson. Too many influences, I can’t recall from which I stole from. [laughs]