Sita's life is not going so well. She's had to spend years apart from her grandmother, who needs an expensive operation, and from her young daughter, who is getting older and being forced to become more mature with each passing day. It's not like Sita's an estranged nomad in the family: She left to make money for her loved ones and fell into the work-off-the-debt-I-put-you-in trap of a violent pimp at a 'karaoke barâ?� that doesn't offer just the vocal stylings of its women.
One night, Sita (played by the mesmerizing Shanty) is forced into a brutal encounter that leaves her bloodied and broken, but apparently not enough so for the pimp, who chases her into the next village where she's living with an elderly photographer, Mr. Johan (Kay Tong Lim, channeling Takashi Shimura's weathered face and mournful eyes). Mr. Johan comes to her rescue, mends her wounds and slowly ' ever so slowly ' allows her into his world of still life.
Despite valiant performances from the two leads, writer-director Nan Triveni Achnas' leaden pace and stationary camera so lulls the audience that the overly broad strokes of the narrative come into focus like an anticlimactic stereogram. When you're dealing with this many clichés and this much self-important dialogue, it's better to cover the blemishes with swift, light touches than to smear them with layers of empty substance.
Originally released in Indonesia in 2007, The Photograph never reaches transcendence, despite Shanty's frame-holding face. The rare moments of emotional connection in the film are the ones in which Achnas ceases giving Shanty meaningless stage business and just allows her emotions to come through. (One scene, in which she cares for Mr. Johan, is almost ' almost ' worth a viewing of the film alone.) It's one thing to fill a frame, but it's a crime to surround a rose with dead branches.
(The Photograph airs 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30 and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1, as part of Orlando Museum of Art's Global Lens series; $7-$12; 407-896-4231; www.omart.org)
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