A trio of eligible, single sisters lives with their widowed father and ageing grandmother, who is more than eager to marry them off. Nunung, the eldest at 29, prefers to stay home to run the house while her younger siblings, Nana and Nenny, flirtatiously party outside. When Nunung unintentionally attracts a suitor, she ends of competing for his affection with her own sister, sparking off a riotous comedy of errors.
About the director
Widely regarded as a trailblazing director-writer-producer of Indonesian film, Usmar Ismail made more than 25 films during his storied career. Of minangkabau descent, he was born in 1921 in West Sumatra, during the Dutch occupation of Indonesia. After serving in the army, Usmar set up the film-production studio, Perfini, in early 1950 to make quality Indonesian cinema.
Influenced by the Italian neorealists, Usmar’s first three films, made just after the Dutch recognised Indonesia’s independence, grittily explored the Indonesian National Revolution (1945–1949). While The Long March (1950) retrospectively regarded as the first truly Indonesian film, Six Hours in Jogja (1951) and After the Curfew (1954) celebrate the locals’ victorious struggle for sovereignty with a sceptical and subtle eye. After the Curfew won five awards, including Best Picture, at the Indonesian Film Festival 1955.
Usmar political satire Exalted Guest (1955), became Perfini’s worst commercial flop, despite receiving critical praise.
As an outright stab at the box office, Usmar directed Three Maidens (1956). This became his studio’s biggest popular success. The romantic comedy-musical joyously captures the clash between tradition and modernity, intermingling fast-changing customs, fashions, settings and song styles to enduring effect.
Usmar passed away in 1971. Today, Indonesia’s National Film Day is commemorated on the anniversary of the first day of The Long March shoot. The Usmar Ismail Awards recognise the best films every year and a concert hall in Jakarta is named after this father of Indonesian movies.
Sources: David Hanan (The Oxford History of World Cinema), Karl G. Heider (Indonesian Cinema: National Culture on Screen), Stanley Widianto (VICE Indonesia), Tertiani Zb Simanjuntak (The Jakarta Post), SA Films
Film and Restoration
Produced on government credit, Three Maidens was Usmar Ismail’s attempt to financially recover from his film studio Perfini’s string of losses. The gamble paid off handsomely: not only did Three Maidens become one of the most commercially successful Indonesian films of the 1950s, it travelled to the Venice International Film Festival 1959, Yugoslavia, Netherlands New Guinea, and Suriname, establishing Usmar internationally.
Premiering at Jakarta’s Capitol Theatre and enjoying an extended run throughout the Indonesian archipelago, Three Maidens was especially popular for its musical numbers. For his seven songs, Three Maidens’ main composer Sjaiful Bachri won the Best Music award at the National Film Appreciation Week (Indonesia) 1960.
Three Maidens surprises with certain takes on gender politics. Females play the active role in courtship and romantic arrangements while the men are portrayed as passive, feckless, naïve and easily manipulated. Three Maidens inspired Lover Left by the Train (1989) and was remade twice, as Three Maidens Seek Love (1980) by Djun Saptohadi and Nia Dinata’s, This is the Story of Three Maidens (2016).
The original film reels of Three Maidens were badly damaged from fungal growth and tears. From 2014 to 2016, the film was physically repaired in Italy and digitally restored in 4K in Jakarta. The restored Three Maidens premiered in 2016 in Jakarta. The film has since screened at the Indonesian Film Forum in New York, the Bangkok ASEAN Film Festival 2017, Taipei Film Festival 2017 and other global avenues, winning over new audiences to this happy and timeless family.
Sources: SA Films, Stanley Widianto (The Jakarta Post), Corry Elyda (The Jakarta Post)