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‘The Architecture of Love’ Film Review: Teddy Soeriaatmadja Channels ‘Mature’ Cuteness to Surprisingly Delightful Results

'The Architecture of Love' Film Review: Teddy Soeriaatmadja Channels 'Mature' Cuteness to Surprisingly Delightful Results
'The Architecture of Love' Film Review: Teddy Soeriaatmadja Channels 'Mature' Cuteness to Surprisingly Delightful Results

By leaning towards a more lighthearted direction, Teddy Soeriaatmadja, Putri Marino, and Nicholas Saputra effortlessly prove that adults can be more loveable than young ingénues.

How do you solve a problem like Ika Natassa?

As beloved her novels are, somehow the motion picture adaptations of those novels (so far) have been, to put it as politely as possible, ‘uneven’. Monty Tiwa and Robert Ronny’s cinematic take on Critical Eleven (2017), in retrospect, was too soapy for its own good. Rizal Mantovani’s interpretation of Antologi Rasa (2019), based on what many still praise as Ika Natassa’s best novel, ended up becoming one of the most forgettable Indonesian features of the 2010s. Benni Setiawan’s Twivortiare (2019), on the other hand, played things so safely that it failed to encourage a more profound conversation on the subject of divorce.

Of course, Ika Natassa is not to blame for this ‘uneven’-ness. In fact, in an impressively strange way, Ika Natassa could think of such ‘uneven’-ness as a compliment. One of the main reasons why her novels have enjoyed nationwide popularity — not to mention, a rare following even among the non-bibliophiles — is how the author managed to cajole her readers into a detailed world of imagination, charm and complexity mingled together in a seductively chic waltz. Having said that, the more captivating a novel is, the more difficult it will be to be adapted into a different medium. Turning that seductively chic waltz into a two-hour pic could easily feel like a summation as opposed to an adaptation. Ika Natassa is not alone in this odd predicament, though. The Indonesian film industry has grown pretty significantly over the past two decades, yet most filmmakers are still hesitant to raise their hand and adapt anything from Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s iconic bibliography.

And then, along came Teddy Soeriaatmadja (2011 Lovely Man, 2023 Hubungi Agen Gue!), who was announced as the director of the motion picture adaptation of Ika Natassa’s 2016 novel The Architecture of Love. Similar to the previous adaptations, the romantic drama features an emerging critical darling (Putri Marino) and a proven leading man (Nicholas Saputra). All in all, the casting felt electrifying if not blatantly formulaic. Unfortunately, if I could be more brutally honest here, I was initially worried that, even before I actually saw the film, I might have seen it already.

Thank God I was wrong.

As a source material for a film, the simplicity and the more relatively straightforward nature of The Architecture of Love allows the film director in question a wider option of which direction the latter is better off to. In the case of Teddy Soeriaatmadja, however, he decided to lean in towards a lighthearted direction. In theory, at least, this direction might appear to be the most ill-advised one considering how, this time, the drama and the turmoil were the elements that made Ika Natassa’s twosome, Raia Risjad and River Jusuf, very much beguiling in the eyes and the imagination of the readers.

But then, something strange, yet very much delightful happened. With Teddy Soeriaatmadja deliberately downplaying the dramatic elements to a nearly nuanced level, The Architecture of Love turns into a grounded and serene investigation of time and forgiveness. By not smothering his audiences with tragedy porn, Teddy Soeriaatmadja translated Raia Risjad and River Jusuf into what they were supposed to be in the first place: two human beings, made of flesh and blood, who are simply doing their best in life.

Another gold stroke that Teddy Soeriaatmadja painted to a surprisingly delightful result was how he deliberately avoided having New York City as a character within The Architecture of Love — a creative move that was contrary to how Ika Natassa portrayed the city in her novel. Teddy Soeriaatmadja’s decision might feel head-scratching at first, but, when all’s said and done, it was, indeed, for the better. As romantic as New York City is, in both fiction and real life, it should not steal the spotlight from the actual love story taking place in the story. Raia Risjad and River Jusuf strolling around and exploring the city is cute, but the cuteness stopped there. After all, New York City should not be the reason why the cinephiles should flock to the theatres to check out The Architecture of Love.

Putri Marino
Putri Marino

Ultimately, what makes The Architecture of Love the cutest Indonesian romance of the decade (so far) is the effortless chemistry between Putri Marino and Nicholas Saputra. In theory, a female writer mending her heartbreak overseas should have been the most annoying heroine ever. However, Putri Marino’s unpredictable acting choices in embodying her Raia Risjad stretch beyond a traditionally lovable heroine (please take notes, Carissa Perusset) and turn her into somebody that you could actually bump into someday — in the borough of New York City or a wedding ballroom in Jakarta. Raia Risjad is oftentimes seen smiling for a huge chunk of The Architecture of Love, but these are not Meg Ryan-knockoff smiles. Putri Marino proves her class by showcasing how, sometimes, a smile can be more heartbreaking than a teardrop.

It is surprising to see that Nicholas Saputra was willing to join in what is essentially an adorable romance between and for adults. Be that as it may, after 22 years in the film biz, his empathetically flawed River Jusuf is perhaps his most effortless performance yet. From the supporting cast department, the fact that Jerome Kurnia shares plenty of screen time with either Putri Marino or Nicholas Saputra without flinching or even losing his magnetism deserves separate applause.

Although the inclusion of Ardhito Pramono’s “Here We Go Again / Fanboi” is cliché AF (New York City, jazz, kissing — yeah, yeah, we get it), having the youngins Pepita (“Falling For You”) and Raissa Anggiani (“Losing Us”) decorate the narrative of The Architecture of Love beautifully underline Teddy Soeriaatmadja’s subtle message within the film. Those two songs, written by teenagers about a very teenage experience, made for a surprisingly appropriate theme number to magnify the youthful sparks between the thirtysomethings Raia Risjad and River Jusuf. This result was contrary to when the more veteran Isyana Sarasvati contributed a song (“Sekali Lagi”) to Critical Eleven. In retrospect, “Sekali Lagi” was a beautiful song, but it did nothing to help provide deeper thoughts about the romance at play. 

If there is a downside to the delightful The Architecture of Love, it would most likely be how the delights exuded by the film might rub off certain audiences in a wrong way. Audiences who have already grown accustomed to Putri Marino’s and Nicholas Saputra’s dramatic turns might consider The Architecture of Love too shallow for their respective talents whereas audiences who are not satisfied with Teddy Soeriaatmadja’s Hubungi Agen Gue! might prefer having the director churn out something in the vein of Lovely Man as opposed to a major-studio, metro-pop romance. For better or for worse, only time can tell whether our audiences would be open-minded enough to understand that no over-abundance of tears, yelling, or baby-making sex is ever necessary to deliver an adult-oriented love story.

This Film Shows a Romantic Chemistry between Putri Marino and Nicholas Saputra
This Film Shows a Romantic Chemistry between Putri Marino and Nicholas Saputra

Next up on the list of Ika Natassa’s novel adaptations is her 2022 novel Heartbreak Motel, for which the motion picture adaptation will be directed by Angga Dwimas Sasongko (13 Bom Di Jakarta) and starring a threesome of more big-banner talents: Laura Basuki, Chicco Jerikho, and Reza Rahadian. Will they be able to follow the sweet-as-honey path made by Teddy Soeriaatmadja or will Angga Dwimas Sasongko decide to spice things up instead? In a perfect world, it would be ideal for Angga Dwimas Sasongko to at least take a few notes from Teddy Soeriaatmadja’s The Architecture of Love. Contrary to a very foolish public assumption, adult romance can be way more adorable than a couple of high-schoolers.

Rest easy, Teddy Soeriaatmadja. You nailed it.

The Architecture of Love is scheduled to premiere in Indonesian theatres on the 30th of April. Photos courtesy of the official Instagram account of The Architecture of Love.

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