Review “27 Steps of May” (2018) – Breaking Out of Trauma

Synopsis

Eight years after surviving an unspeakably horrendous rape, May struggled to cope with her trauma after she found a little piece of wonder when she witnessed a magician rehearse from the hole in her bedroom wall.

Summary

27 Steps of May, which marks the second collaboration of director Ravi Bharwani and writer Rayya Makarim, tells the story about the process of healing from traumatic experience. Led by Raihaanun as a girl named May and Lukman Sardi as her dad who boxed and fought around to make money and release his anger, this film shed a light on the impact of sexual assault through the eye of the survivor and her sole parent.

This film also starred Verdi Solaiman as the father’s best friend and Ario Bayu as the magician behind the wall. On an interview, Verdi said that this film is a “harmonious collaborative work” between all the crews and casts that are involved because Ravi, as a director, lower his ego down to actually listen to all the inputs from Verdi, Lukman, and everyone that can make the film to be better.

Strength

Through heartbreakingly engaging visual poetry with metaphors lying around every corner of plot points, 27 Steps of May carefully conveying a message of ‘healing through the assistance of support system’. Here, we saw the father as the one who provided material support by taking care of May inside the house, cooking the food with the right preference, and giving may something to do to distract her from the pain she’s been feeling.

Unfortunately, the father has been blaming himself since everything happened. The wounds that were made from his inability to forgive himself makes him unable to provide May the mental support she needs. He goes from ring to ring to land his punches on people’s faces to cope with his anger, thus leaving May at home, silent and agonized.

After the fire burned the neighborhood, May started to find a spark of life’s wonder from a magician that rehearsed his show on his workshop. Through the hole in the wall of her barren bedroom wall, the magician, finally recognized her, reach out to her, and show her the color of the world she’s been missing since her childhood, the last time at the theme park.

Many people, especially third-wave feminists, sees this as a “male savior plot” because it seems like May would only be moved to confront his trauma because of the “cis-male” magician who “make a move” towards her and how this film is perceived as “an intrusion of the safe space of female rape survivor by a male.” While the concern is understandable, we can see clearly that the magician did not do anything except reaching out, being who he is, and be there as an emotional support system. The magician never do anything to May that is out of her consent. He backed away whenever May resists, but reached out every time she looks fascinated.

Although the delivery is mostly bleak and depressing, 27 Steps of May encourages its audience to reach out to sexual assault survivors and be the support system they need through its “hole in the wall” metaphor.

Raihaanun’s performance, at the center of this film, gives a one-of-a-kind emotionally immersive experience through the mental state of a rape victim. You will not be prepared on how her silence, along 110 minutes of duration, can continuously rip your heart apart and bring tears stream down on your face. Lukman Sardi also deserves standing applause for his effort in portraying a damaged man who keeps “bargaining” through physical pain because he can’t forgive himself for not being able to protect his daughter.

Praise should also be given to Verdi Solaiman for adding more contextual layers and a little bit of proper comic relief, which is what this film desperately need if it does not intend to make the audience wail and cry in fetal position during the runtime.

Familiar with the theme of alienation, pain, and struggle to break through, Ravi uses his signature of minimum dialogue to emphasize the unspeakable suffering from both May and his father. He took advantage of the claustrophobic, dimly lit bedroom and the mundane routines like knitting doll, having lunch and dinner, and May’s skipping rope exercise to create uncomfortable atmosphere to the point where no matter how quiet the scene is, the unsettling air sounds painfully loud because every presence and every absence feels tangible.

Even so, screenwriter Rayya Makarim knows how to make every dialogue feels treasured. There was just three words that were said by May at the final scene when she find her acceptance and embrace her father, but those three words will make your heart explodes like when the leveeĀ breaks.

Distopiana’s Rating: MASTERPIECE