SARAH LOHMANN WRITES — In this age of scrolling feeds and images, what are we, if not our faces, our best days posted, and our reputations on display for the world to see? The photos we take of our bodies make up the mask we show to the world, so what do we become when we are no longer in control of our mask and what it is used for? Photocopier (2022) is a crime mystery film that begins with Sur, a student at an Indonesian university, whose scholarship is revoked because of some selfies posted to her social media depicting Sur drunk at a recent party. The issue? She does not remember taking any selfies, let alone posting them. So, how could this have happened?
First shown at South Korea’s Busan International Film Festival in October 2021, Photocopier served as Indonesian director Wregas Bhanuteja’s feature-length directorial debut. The film won twelve Citra Awards out of seventeen nominations before being released internationally on Netflix in January 2022.
After her education and livelihood are derailed by the selfies, Sur’s father kicks her out of the house. She becomes obsessed with finding out who posted the images, holing up with a friend, Amin. Amin lives in his internet cafe, one equipped with a couple of computers and, most importantly to the local students, a photocopier. People from Sur’s school come to do their work at the cafe, and when they connect to the local network, Sur pokes around their files to search for evidence.
Bhanuteja draws on two elements to drive the film: light and color. The role of Amin’s cafe in the movie is massive. It’s dark, simultaneously dingy, and littered with bright lights, and at its center is the photocopier. This sets a precedent for various dimly lit settings in the film contrasted with exposed, blinding scenes outdoors. This decision primes the viewer to be aware of the dichotomy of light and dark in other places, too: places, photographs, and even our own knowledge of the truth.
In her pursuit to clear her name, Sur suspects those closest to her. Her friends accuse her of losing touch with reality, of being delusional for doubting them, but we are invited to question Sur, too. In Bhanuteja’s world of blacks and blues and greens, we are sunk into the world’s underbelly. Frequently, our eyes are only graced with the light of a screen. The film gives us what matters: data, bytes, and images. We are shown in shots between the cracks in the floor, the line of a cursor, and the highlighted scan of files; these traceable elements are what we are given as viewers and they are what matters to those who will inevitably decide Sur’s future.
Despite what we know is true, we are tethered to the “truth” of the film by its color grading and directing, making Photocopier a terrifying example of how our world discounts the voices of victims, especially when they are victims of crimes that are unprovable or undocumented. We are reduced to our basest images. Our faces, scars, tattoos, and shadows. The disembodied fragments of ourselves are left to be devoured–the deepest darkest secrets lacking all context and permission. Who are we if we are not in control of our own images and, by extension, our bodies? Our stories? It seems, sometimes, that we are nothing at all.
Sarah Lohmann graduated from Knox College with a BA in Creative Writing and Asian Studies. She focused her studies on film, translation, and Korean culture.
Edited by book review editor-in-chief, Ella Kelleher.