Worst writer and slackest person ever back to continue my reviews of films I saw at the Berlinale about FOUR MONTHS AGO. I know, I know. But hey, I’m trying to make good here (a reference to the opening of this post. Yes, that was a blatant attempt to get you to read other stuff on the site). So my comeback is to be started off by this film review of Kebun Binatang (Postcards from the Zoo), the debut feature film of Indonesian director Edwin. Before you get excited by visions of more The Raid awesomeness, let me stop you right there. You know those films that are (either condescendingly, fairly, or praisingly) categorised as “Typical Indie Flick”? Well, this would be one of those. Sorry, no kick-ass fighting or blood and gore here, folks. It’s lingering camera shots, minimal dialogue, and ambiguous scenes all the way.
Lana (Ladya Cheryl) was abandoned as a child at a local zoo in Jakarta, Indonesia. Growing up as one of the zoo’s “residents” (read: squatters), she develops a singular care for, and relationships with, the animals that she unofficially helps look after. One day a mysterious magician cowboy (Nicholas Saputra) arrives, and he piques her innocent interest. As the two get to know each other, they get involved in an adventure that results in Lana finally leaving the zoo for the world outside, and meeting people and experiencing situations that she’s never encountered before. Will Lana get snared into this wild new world, or pine for the enclosed home she’s familiar with?
OK, so from my opening paragraph (or if you’ve skipped ahead to the rating I’ve bestowed…) you may have already picked up that I wasn’t a huge fan of this film. To be honest, the only reason I saw this film was because it was Indonesian (call it heritage-obligations if you will). The plot itself could be fairly interesting. Maybe in the hands of someone with more experience it could have been better. Or if there was more dialogue, or action, or drama, or something, to lift the film out of the slow-paced funk it’s in. Now don’t get me wrong — I can get into slow-paced. But I need something to keep me interested. And it doesn’t have to be exploding buildings or multiple beheadings either. Unfortunately the almost glacial pacing and bare-boned dialogue don’t add to the entertainment.
To be fair, Cheryl portrays her child-like character Lana quite well. Though it’s hard to believe such a character would exist, she doesn’t come across as a forced innocent (though maybe a bit too gullible). Her simplicity is quite nice, but I would have liked her to have some more smarts about her instead of being so trusting. As it is, Cheryl’s work kind of goes to waste because of the weak character. Saputra’s cowboy is more of a cameo (he’s kind of a big deal in Indonesia). He mostly acts as the catalyst, forcing Lana to leave her comfortable zone and ***SPOILER ALERT BUT REALLY THIS IS AN INDIE SO WHO CARES*** disappears shortly after they leave the zoo, leaving Lana to fend for herself. ***END SPOILER ALERT*** Being such a small role (though it does affect the story and push the main character along), there’s not that much to say. Saputra is capable of more than this, and the cowboy’s whole magician persona — who does actual magic, not just tricks — I admit I didn’t really get. The rest of the characters are pretty forgettable.
Though not a badly-made film, or even bad-period, Kebun Binatang just doesn’t have anything in it that really stood out. The whole analogy of Lana as an animal, losing her innocence, getting put back into her natural habitat with her own kind, I got it, but nothing interested me or kept me hooked A bit more dialogue or drama, less National Geographic five-minute interludes, a tightening of the script, any of these could maybe have helped to make this a half-decent film. As it is, the hour-and-a-half runtime felt much longer than it should have, and made me want to avoid obviously-Indie-looking films like this for some time.
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