DER Documentary

Ngaben: Emotion & Restraint in a Balinese Heart

Ngaben: Emotion & Restraint in a Balinese Heart launch preview watch a preview

by Robert Lemelson
color, 16 min, 2012
Indonesian and Balinese with English subtitles


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The Balinese cremation ceremony, or ngaben, has primarily been known in the West as either a major tourist attraction that dazzles visitors with the splendor, intricacy, and drama of its performance, or as fodder for long-standing anthropological arguments about personhood and emotion on the island that debated whether or not Balinese people expressed, or even experienced, grief. According to Balinese Hindu beliefs, cremation is one of the most important steps in a person's spiritual life, and a heavy responsibility to the family, because it is through cremation that the physical body is returned to its five constituent elements and the soul is cleansed and released from the body to ascend to heaven and be reincarnated.

Ngaben: Emotion and Restraint in a Balinese Heart takes an impressionistic look at the ngaben from the perspective of a mourning son, Nyoman Asub, and reveals the intimacy, sadness, and tenderness at the core of this funerary ritual and the feeling and force that underlie an exquisite cultural tradition. Amidst ample cultural and interpretive understandings of the cremation ceremony, the film purposefully provides a personalistic, impressionistic, and poetic glimpse of the process and the complex emotions involved.

Related Resources
Study guide (PDF)
Film website:

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Honorable Mention, International Film Festival for Environment, Health and Culture, Indonesia, 2013
Ethnografilm festival, France, 2014
Espiello International Ethnographic Documentary Festival, Spain, 2014
ETHNOCINECA, Austria, 2014
Sarasota Film Festival, Sarasota, Florida, 2013
Russian Anthropological Film Festival, Ekaterinburg, Russia, 2013
XXII International Film Festival of Ethnological Film, Belgrade, 2013

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