Stars: Ladya Cheryl, Nicholas Saputra, Adjie Nur Ahmad and Klarysa Aurelia Raditya.
Writer: Edwin, Daud Sumolang and Titien Wattimena.
Running time: 96 mins.
MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL Screenings - Sat 4 Aug, 11.00am; Sat 18 Aug, 9.00pm.
Precisely the type of rarely-glimpsed international work that serious festival goers should seek out if only because it will never see the inside of an Australian cinema ever again, SFF patrons will be divided over Indonesian auteur Edwin’s sophomore effort, the often engaging yet head-scratchingly oblique Postcards from The Zoo.
The first half of the young filmmaker’s beautifully shot follow-up to his 2008 debut, Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly, is steeped in a dream-like, spiritual ethereality that proves to be somewhat overstated in the overall structure of Postcards from The Zoo but entrancing to watch nonetheless. The first 10 minutes of this challenging but haunting film consists of the innocent child-form of our heroine Lana (Klarysa Aurelia Raditya) wandering through woodlands calling for her father, before settling into the magical world that will soon become her home inside the animal park.
Growing into womanhood (played by the gentle and lovely Ladya Cheryl) wholly within the walled environment of the zoo, Lana becomes steeped in both the scientific and cultural significance of many of the animals, none more so than the majestic giraffe with whom she shares a profound connection. But when a charismatic cowboy-magician (Nicholas Saputra) sweeps her off her feet, she is transplanted into the dark and unpleasantly dirty world of Jakarta’s brothels, robbing the film of much of its essential charm and lyrical non-linear narrative momentum.
The first two-acts are almost entirely plot-free, instead relying upon man-animal interaction and interstitial cards with scientific facts about creature behaviour to engage the audience. But it is exactly the unencumbered pacing of glimpsed moments in the life of Lana and her zoo friends that are missed most as the story broadens. Crude language and happy-ending parlour pleasures, and a slimy street-thug caricature that is entirely out-of-place, takes Postcards from The Zoo into unwelcome, overly-familiar, not-very-interesting territory.
Much of this tawdry excess could have been trimmed and no impact would have been lost, helping with some pacing problems that make the entirely reasonable 96 minute running time seem significantly longer. It is not until the film relocates back to the animal park (all scenes were shot at the Ragunan Zoo in South Jakarta) and reverts to the gentle wanderings of Lana amongst her special animal friends does the film come to life again.
There is a temptation to apply theories as to greater meaning in a film such as Postcards From the Edge. Given Edwin’s stature as a Chinese director living in Indonesia, several analysts have mused over the film’s metaphorical underpinnings; is Lana’s cloistered existence and exploitation in the larger world synonymous with the plight of the enclaved Chinese population in the greater Muslim nation? Such thematic interpretations are open to debate but certainly add an element of understanding to the often bizarre scenarios Edwin stages.
Postcards from the Zoo works sufficiently well as a humanistic artwork, driven by a spiritual clarity and romantic hopefulness. Detractors of zoological park methodologies, who believe animals should not be caged, may not be swayed by some of the ‘happy animal’ scenes, but they play well into Edwin’s intent which, in the simplest terms, seems to be that home is where the heart is for all God’s creatures.