by: PRINDIE Senior Programmer ALEX KIM
Alex is a mathematics major at Princeton University, where he has also studied film theory and screenplay writing.
It takes some directors entire careers before they can surprise and move audiences the way that Kado (A Gift) does—to make a film so real, and with such quiet power. And even then, many still couldn’t do it in the short amount of time that Kado does it in. That director Aditya Ahmad, who is only thirty years old, has learned to do this already (in what is only his second short film as a director) makes me truly excited for the future and for whatever film he might make next. But we’re not talking about that just yet—right now we’re talking about Kado.
Kado follows Isfi (played by Isfira Febiana, in a remarkable performance), whose father and larger society insists is a girl, but who is trying to grapple with her gender identity on her own terms—while trying to juggle the responsibility of finding the best birthday gifts possible for two of her friends, Ricky and Nita.
Ricky and Isfi’s other male friends know and treat her as just one of the boys, a way of living that’s at first joyous but later leads to one of the film’s most heartbreaking moments. In another such moment, Isfi’s father slaps her for not having done her duty as a girl in the family and cooked him his dinner yet. There is the horrifying inclusion of a cigarette in the father’s hand when he slaps her, so that it looks almost as though the blow is so hard it releases sparks. It’s a smartly included detail and it demonstrates the attention that Ahmad pays to every aspect of his film, and his awareness of the way that small elements can have powerful effects.
Kado is filmed in a documentary-like style. The camera often moves in a way that seems to suggest a cameraman, following, recording Isfi’s life as real and unscripted. Even the inclusion of cuts to striking close-ups (as in an early scene when we see a look of excitement on Isfi’s face while planning Ricky’s surprise) and a slow zoom-out during a shot of Nita later in the film don’t take away from the film’s sense of realism, since these moments still remain true to the characters’ emotions that they underscore. Kado gives us an honest account of Isfi’s world. Often it’s not a very forgiving one, and there are no real indications that it will get better. But through it all Isfi herself remains caring, and compassionate, and that refusal to give up the core of her personality even as she is forced to live a life as two different persons makes this film a vital and necessary one.