Laura N-Tamara is a London-based, French-Indonesian animator/art director. Witch's Mask is a film about a young man who goes back to see his dying mother. But what do you do when your mother is a murderous deity? The Witch’s Mask draws on Indonesian folklore, themes of fatality borrowed from Greek tragedy, and the ambivalence one can feel towards family.
<< Being half-Indonesian, I grew up surrounded by Indonesian folklore and always wanted to make a piece that took inspiration from the richness of its culture and arts. Although I was raised in France, Indonesia is a country I visited many times from a young age, where half my family lives and its landscape, music and tales - mostly those from Java, South Sumatra and Bali - contributed to shape my imagination without a doubt. I don’t pretend to have made a film that represents Indonesia, but rather, my bi-cultural perception - borrowing from memories, sounds and tales and transposing it onto film.
The Witch’s Mask is rooted in more than one tale, though the main reference is the witch Rangda who represents the forces of evil in Balinese dance. Usually, she is seen fighting the lion-like creature Barong, an embodiment of positive forces, in a dance that has always fascinated me. During my research, I came across a version in which she was also mother to King Airlangga who later came back to defeat her. It made me think about what that King might have been like as a child and the moral dilemma of being the Witch’s son on a personal level : how to reconcile wanting to be loved by a parent whose actions are hurtful. In my film, there is no King, he has become Wayan, the main character who comes back to the village after many years, stuck between the roots of tradition and the independent life he is trying to live.
I wanted to incorporate some modern elements as well and have the film in an in-between space - somewhat dreamlike, rooted in folklore yet with hints of modern life. I am very interested in modern renditions of mythology and drew inspiration from works such as Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus and Pasolini’s Oedipus Rex.
In terms of aesthetics, if you look closely, the hand-painted backgrounds have bits of tape, collage and home-made stamps that are a nod to Indonesia’s punk/DIY subculture but also reference traditional batik patterns.
This duality is present in the sound too, as the film opens on a pop-punk track by local band ‘Killed by Best Friend’ which contrasts with ritual scenes set to the music of gamelan orchestra Lila Cita. The character designs are loosely inspired by masks from Indonesian dance and puppet theatre. The eponymous Witch’s Mask is based on Rangda’s, whereas Wayan’s face borrows simplified design elements from wayang shadow puppetry such as the long nose and swirly hair. As for his outfit, he is dressed casually in a sarong and a t-shirt.
I want to open up a dialogue and makes the audience curious of the vastness of Indonesian culture >>
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