Typically I like to watch Indonesian films, even the bad ones, because watching movies is a good way to improve my Bahasa. But even given that, it is difficult for me to find any redeeming qualities in Eiffel I'm in Love 2, an Indonesian rom-com that is a sequel to a very popular 2003 film. While the Indonesian film industry is starting to come into its own with superb work from directors like Joko Anwar and Mouly Surya, its romantic films are not really keeping pace.
Romance films in Indonesia are constrained by censorship laws intended to reinforce the conservative values and cultural mores of a Muslim-majority country, and thus they tend to push traditional ideas when it comes to male-female relationships. They stress the importance of fidelity while highlighting male supremacy and patriarchy. Female characters often lack any real agency while being subjected to the whims and controlling behaviors of their fathers or boyfriends, who are often cast in the role of protector and provider. Intense jealousy is a common theme and a typical plot device is a woman's desperate desire to either get married or have a baby. Romantic comedies, like Eiffel I'm in Love 2, turn this desperation into a punchline. But even if you're not a feminist, and don't care one iota about female identity in film, this movie is still insultingly dumb just on a plot and character level.
The sequel picks up 12 years after the original with our main character, Tita, living in Jakarta while her boyfriend Adit lives in Paris. They have been in a long-distance relationship (which goes by the acronym LDR, as if it were a deduction on a tax form) for this entire time, while she patiently waits for him to propose. Or something. It is not clear that Tita has any idea what she wants in life or how to get it or what it means to be an adult with actual thoughts and feelings and goals. But more on that later.
The movie opens with Tita, a bridesmaid at her friend's wedding, receiving a call from her mother telling her that she must come home because it is after 8 PM. She dutifully complies even though she is a 27-year-old woman with a full-time job as a veterinarian who appears, by all outward appearances, to be a fully functioning adult. This example of obsessive, borderline abusive, paternal control elicited laughter in the theater I was in. The little set-up also does double duty by informing us that all Tita's friends are getting married, while she is being left behind as she tends to the suffocating corpse of her LDR. So she better get moving, right guys?!
While on the way home from the wedding, she receives a call from Adit in Paris and they immediately start fighting in the most petulant way possible and playing the kind of little low-stakes power games one might expect from a child who doesn't want to put their pants on. This is an important character beat for the film, because it establishes that they are both repugnant people with less emotional intelligence than a hamster. The rest of the film is basically just one long running joke about how the two of them fight over the stupidest shit while trying to use shallow middle school psychological tricks to manipulate one another in the dumbest, most immature and obvious ways possible. This is meant to be endearing.
But wait - there's more! Tita is then informed by her mother and father that the entire family is moving to Paris to pursue some sort of restaurant business. Tita is told that she must quit her job, pack up and go. Since this character has absolutely no free will or personality, and is essentially an empty vessel upon which others impose their wishes and desires, she immediately does as she is told and quits her job as a veterinarian and jets off to Paris. Does any of this bother her? Of course not! Why does she need a life of her own when her parents, who would probably be charged with false imprisonment in another country, have unilaterally decided she must fly to Paris and now she can be with the guy who has been stringing her along for the past 12 years? It's a dream come true!
Once in Paris, her family stays at Adit's house and things take a turn for the worse as Adit takes her on a date and instead of proposing tells her that he is not ready to marry her. Why not? Well, he wont say. So they break up. As it is the custom in Indonesia for couples to break up constantly then make up and apologize, this is not considered a serious bump in their relationship. In the morning Tita is once again informed by someone else, in this case her sister-in-law, that the whole family is moving to an apartment because Adit is selling the house. Tita storms out of Adit's house (complete with voice-over where she idiotically wonders why he isn't chasing after her) and later catches him getting cozy with a white girl in a cafe! Uh oh, it looks like this break-up might be the real deal!
But, no. Of course it's not. Tita's unspeakably horrible mother has a chat with her where she explains that marriage is about ignoring what you want, suppressing your feelings, enduring endless fighting and turning a blind eye to the fact that your husband is a total asshole and doesn't give a shit about you or what you want - all in the name of love, and as long as the husband can be a good provider of course. After that, Tita meets Adit atop the Eiffel Tower where he explains that he wasn't ready to marry her yet because - and this part really digs deep to out-do the levels of stupidity previously established in this film - the apartment he had bought for them to live in wasn't fully furnished. Apparently, it is not possible to propose to your girlfriend of 12 years - or to even tell her that you will be proposing - until your apartment is fully furnished. Naturally, Tita has no input in choosing or decorating the apartment. It's a take-it-or-leave-it kind of deal. Adit also explains that the Parisian woman was actually just a designer helping him to complete the renovations. Well, glad that got cleared up! Wonder why he only told her that now and not, you know, back when she asked? But clearly, questions like that have no place in the ether of this movie. They kiss in the soft Parisian light and the film mercifully ends.
My main problem with this urinal cake of a film is that Tita is an idiot and really a sort of tragic, awful figure. She has been trapped in a relationship for 12 years, apparently just waiting around being criminally imprisoned by her parents until Adit is ready to make her his wife and she can disappear into a bonfire made from the flaming remnants of the feminist movement. She has made no effort to improve this situation or to seize control of her own life and indeed spends all her time playing 8th grade games with Adit. "We're broken up!" she yells into the phone, hangs up and then waits for him to call back and apologize. Based on my experience, admittedly a small sample size, this is a common method of courtship in Indonesia and it does make you wonder how a country of 300 million people collectively came to the conclusion that this is the best way to date.
She then gets pushed and pulled around throughout the entire movie while the audience laughs. She quits her job because she is told to. She waits for Adit because she is told to. She moves out of Adit's house because she is told to. Even with all the stupid shit in this movie, that one really threw me through a loop. Tita moves thousands of miles to Paris and doesn't even have any idea WHERE she will be living or that Adit, her boyfriend of 12 years, is about to sell his house or why he might be doing that? At no point did she ask someone, "Hey Mom and Dad, like, what's the plan here?"
But of course she didn't. That would be expecting far too much from someone with the brain of a walnut, who exists in a universe of similarly walnut-brained people. I mean, let's take a look at Adit for a second here. This guy tells his girlfriend of 12 years that he can't marry her yet because he is not ready. When will he be ready? He doesn't know. But if he would just stop eating Tide pods for a second and think about it he might realize that actually yes, he does know! He will be ready to marry Tita once he gets some furniture in their new apartment! Why doesn't he just say that?
Asking questions like that about a film like this is a fool's errand. There are no answers, at least not satisfying ones. Adit and Tita live in a world where imprisoning your adult daughter in your house and then chain-ganging her into quitting her job and moving to Paris to work as an indentured servant in the family restaurant is considered sweet. They live in a world where extended gags about McDonald's that seemingly go on forever are considered the height of comedy. They live in a world where breaking up every day only to get back together is a romantic gesture. They live in a world where audiences find a vapid, sweet idiot girl who goes where the men in her life tell her and does what they want without asking any questions - even basic ones like, where will I live? - to be endearing, where a guy like Adit who at no point indicates that he cares about Tita or what she wants is considered charming. They live in a world where these things make for a perfect Valentine's Day date movie in a country where several provinces and municipalities recently tried to ban Valentine's Day.
In fact, I would not be surprised if the same politicians who pushed to ban Valentine's Day were actually involved in financing and making this movie in an effort to convince Indonesians never to go on another movie date on Valentine's Day ever again. If that was their goal, it may have worked!