Rhetorically, the threatening specter of militarism looms just out of frame in Makbul Mubarak’s debut feature, Autobiography, a work extrapolated from the political and ideological strife the director seems intent on reflecting upon with brooding moral discernment. Literally, in the introductory sequence between our protagonist, the coy Rakib (played by Kevin Ardilova), and his officious employer, the former-general-now-bullish-politician Purna (Arswendy Bening Swara), a large painting of the retiree in-uniform hangs above our hero’s turned head; the former’s fate to be entwined with the soldier, in this moment, now looks sealed. An escalating set of labored machinations lead Rakib down an ethical spiral, obfuscating the usually dialectical territory with an unhelpfully binary philosophizing. Mubarak slathers Rakib in anonymity, which ultimately confounds the work’s focal quandaries — such a foundation of personality, or lack thereof, is both a lazy character trope and, perhaps in this case, an assumptive one. As a result of the former, the relationship between spectator and character is constantly determined by plotted context, our interpretations rendered merely through Rakim’s proximity to action and never via his own agency as character. Simultaneously, this character’s vacant interiority — a construct of Mubarak’s to seek the answer to the question: “is loyalty still honorable if and when it is pledged to something monstrous?” — surmises an innocuous austerity as the blank slate upon which fanaticism can fester, rather than coloring-in any contradiction which would trouble and make provocative this depiction of finding allure in the promises of fascism. Instead of the active agent taking hold of the reigns of power offered to them as a means towards some sense of actualization, it is the passive vassal who is unaware of what they have gotten themselves into and, therefore, must eventually escape. This is an assumption of disposition that will condemn the work to that of vague idealistic exercise.
The ideology of the film is increasingly drab in reflection of the question Mubarak articulates within the Director’s Statement: “In a society with such a repressed history, what does it take to be able to call oneself ‘a good person’?” The film seems content to find its answers in the naive blurring of liberal moralism, seeking illumination not in the infrastructures of mobility and positionality, which invariably conduct common codes of ethics, but in those very idealistic codes of ethics that by design often fail to ever position themselves within said infrastructure. Mubarak seems less interested in the world that cultivates these relationships of power and their effects than he is in just the individualistic cognition of morality. Unfortunately, organizing such a narrative around a character through which a particular morality has already been cognized and allocated ensures nothing but an extended runtime of redundancy. What we’re left with is the tottered unfurling of reductionism and presumed dramaturgical virtuousness.
Published as part of Venice International Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 1.