Faozan Rizal is hardly a newcomer to the film industry. The prolific cameraman has shot and directed several independent films to date. More than that, he has worked with renowned director Hanung Bramantyo on 21 films throughout the past six years. But his latest film, “Habibie & Ainun,” scheduled for release on Thursday, marks new territory for him, as it is the first time he has directed a commercial movie.
“Normally, I do experimental films that don’t go beyond a festival circuit,” Faozan said. “But Hanung was busy with other projects, so he asked me to be the director of this film.”
It was Hanung who in 2010 first gave Faozan former president B.J. Habibie’s memoir, “Habibie & Ainun,” which is the basis for the film. The book chronicles the story of Habibie and his late wife, Hasri Ainun Besari. Faozan, who is based in both Jakarta and Berlin, was intrigued because the story also takes place in Germany, where Habibie studied in the 1960s and lived for a significant amount of time.
Together the directors entered the planning stages to bring the story to the big screen. However, it soon became clear that Hanung wouldn’t be able to direct the movie himself, as he was busy directing a movie about Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno. Faozan stepped up to the plate to take Hanung’s place.
Faozan admitted that it was quite a challenge for him.
“Because this is a commercial movie, we have to think about the business side and cannot simply regard it as our own piece of art,” he explained, adding that he was still able to enjoy the process, most of all because he worked with his usual crew.
Faozan said that since the film was based on a book about the relationship between Habibie and his wife, it was first and foremost a love story while also touching on Habibie’s career in politics.
“It focuses on Habibie and Ainun as a couple, as human beings,” Faozan said.
The pair were friends since junior high school and eventually got married in 1962. Two sons soon entered the picture.
Even though putting the love story into focus eased things for Faozan, it came with complications.
“Suddenly we realized that there was no real conflict to the story,” he explained, laughing. “Their love story was quite straight, there was no love triangle, for instance.”
However, cinematically speaking, such a conflict was needed to add drama to the film. In the end, Faozan and his team decided to make Ainun’s illness the turning point of the movie.
“She never told him that she had cancer, though she underwent treatment in 1972,” Faozan said. “She saw her husband so busy at work, she didn’t want to trouble him.”
Ainun only told her husband that she was sick shortly before she passed away in Munich in May 2010.
In the film, 25-year-old actor Reza Rahadian portrays the young Habibie, while Bunga Citra Lestari plays his wife Ainun. The casting also was a challenge on its own, especially when the part of Habibie was concerned.
“At the beginning, we tried to look for someone who shared similar attributes to Pak Habibie,” Faozan said. “One month before we wanted to go into production, we still hadn’t found the right person. So eventually, we focused on the acting skills only. Otherwise, it would have been too difficult.”
The shooting took place in both Indonesia and Germany. Almost every day, Faozan had a special guest on set – Habibie himself.
“It made me quite nervous at the beginning,” he said, adding that the former president didn’t shy away from giving his input.
“Sometimes he would say, ‘no, I wouldn’t interact this way with my wife,’ but then I had to explain that it was for the sake of the film’s dramaturgy,” Faozan said.
One of the biggest challenges for Faozan was to direct Reza in a way that the audience would believe that this young actor was Habibie.
“Habibie is a public figure, everybody knows what he looks like,” Faozan explained. “So it was most important for Reza to put on a believable performance.”
The scenes in which he had to speak German were probably the most difficult for the young actor, Faozan said. The fact that there is a lot of documentation about Habibie, and of course, his presence on set, surely helped him put on a believable performance. This, however, wasn’t the case for Ainun.
“I felt quite sorry for Bunga,” Faozan said. “We didn’t have any photos or footage of Ibu Ainun, so it was hard for her to know how to move, how to speak, how to act. That’s when Pak Habibie stepped in.”
Habibie explained to Bunga how she could best portray his late wife. There was one scene in the film where Ainun celebrated a birthday, shortly after Indonesia’s first airplane, the CN 235, designed by Habibie, held its first successful flight.
When Habibie wished his wife a happy birthday, he said that the maiden voyage of the plane was his present to her.
“I thought that this was very romantic,” Faozan said. “So for that scene, I asked Pak Habibie to take over from me and direct. That is one of my happiest memories from making this film — having the former Indonesian president direct a scene of my movie.”
He added that Habibie seemed to enjoy himself. “It was like he had found a new toy, and he was happy to play with it.”
Despite Habibie’s obvious joy in being involved in the production, it was not always easy for him to relive his personal moments with his wife, and a couple of times, he became quite emotional, especially when they shot the scenes at the hospital in Munich and at the couple’s home near Aachen.
“When we were shooting the scenes at their house, the original location, and Reza and Bunga were both wearing clothes that belonged to Pak Habibie and Ibu Ainun, you could see that it was hard for him,” Faozan said.
In the end, Habibie was happy with the final result. When he saw the film, Faozan said he was moved to tears.
“When Pak Habibie first found out that Ibu Ainun was sick with ovarian cancer, he read everything he could from all different sorts of books,” he said. “He even went into the operating room when Ibu Ainun had surgery. According to the doctors, they were under a lot of stress because Pak Habibie had a lot of questions. ‘Why are you doing this?’ ‘Why are you doing that,’ he would ask them.”
In addition to playing in Indonesian theaters, “Habibie & Ainun” will also screen in Malaysia and Singapore. There are plans to release the film in Japan, the Netherlands and Germany as well.
For Faozan, directing his first commercial movie was a rewarding task. Asked if this is where he wanted to put his focus from now on, he only laughed.
“Well, if there is another opportunity, we’ll see,” he said. “For now, I will continue working with Hanung on his upcoming projects.”
The pair works well together because they understand each other’s vision, Faozan said.
“We both understand that cinematography serves the story and vice versa,” he said. “Some directors seem to forget that. Sometimes, people who watch a movie admire the cinematography, but as soon as they leave the cinema, they have forgotten the story. It should be in balance.”
Habibie & Ainun
Directed by Faozan Rizal
Starring Reza Rahadian, Bunga Citra Lestari, Tio Pakusadewo
Indonesian and German
Opens in cinemas on Thursday