There’s something thrilling about illicit love stories; one must think that desire is, but an emotion so often executed to boredom but when given ample cause, it adds more excitement when unleashed in cautious restraint. It strikes deeply and blossoms into full-blown rebellion, and with it comes its own hell.
At first glance, Ertanto Robby Soediskam’s Ave Maryam seems like an ordinary love story about Sister Maryam (Maudy Koesnaedi) and Father Romo Yosef (Chicco Jerikho) brought about by chance when he accompanies the sickly, Sister Monic (Tutie Kirana) as she returns home to the monastery.
We are introduced to Sister Maryam in a montage of routines in the monastery: bathing the elder nuns, cleaning, cooking, eating along with her fellow sisters, and administering the elder nuns’ medicine. Occasionally there’s a sense of weariness for Maryam’s part but she takes it with a grace of patience, a result of years of discipline and faith. It isn’t until the day ends and the darkness of the room descends that we see Maryam’s innermost desires: her taste in literature, the desire in her eyes as she stares up in the ceiling in bed and her dreams of the windows above the ocean. Koesnaedi plays Maryam with grace and enough teasing to let us know that there is something else brewing in those quiet moments. This restrained desire by the vows of her profession blossoms once Father Romo Yosef enters the picture.
In a film about two holy people in cautious restraint, there isn’t much to ponder at. Wawan Wibowo’s editing fills more questions than answers, preferring to give us the silence and in a film that exercises so much of it, it doesn’t give us anything to root for but the end itself.
Romo Yosef is a priest who loves music with such life enough for Maryam to understand the painful ways of yearning. One scene has Maryam coming down curiously watching Yosef conduct a small choir in practice for a mass. Through the wooden slits, she studies him as he moves vigorously with the sound of the trumpets and violins filling the scene with a wave of yearning which falters once it abruptly switches to the next scene.
Ical Tanjung’s cinematography provides a sense of something new with its gorgeous shots of the sea contrasting with the pale darkness of the monastery. However, besides the odd editing, it suffers along with its pacing and its dialogue is remotely absurd.
Like all illicit romances, its predictability gives foresight as Maryam in a fit of confusion on her 40th birthday cannot decide with which love fulfills her more—the love of her profession or the promise of romance. In the end, when she confesses to the priest, we realize that this is but a woman realizing that there is more to the desire of the heart—this is her choosing something bigger than she is.
Ave Maryam could have been about many things. It could have been more than a love story or about a woman choosing a love that fulfills in the long run. But all that potential falls short in its own huge spaces, giving us nothing but more questions in return.