There is a Danish term that I have never really found a satisfactory English word for: pudseløjerlig. It means “funny-odd” or “cutesy-strange”. I like to use it to describe things that obviously want to be a little weird, a little edgy and strange, but really are just cutesy and harmless; silly and insubstantial. In other words: pretentious (often commercial and over-hyped) throw-away fluff. Like the Hello Kitty phenomenon and lots of Japanese animated movies filled with “dangerous” creatures with no bite (Yes, Totoro, I’m looking at you). Like Stephenie Meyer vampires. And, in my opinion, like most of the authorship of Neil Gaiman, exemplified by a cutesy Death quoting Mary Poppins. I have very little patience with stuff like that. Artistically, it doesn’t seem to me to be going anywhere, and its particular brand of happy happy joy joy is not mine. Apparently, though, teenage girls can’t get enough of it.
The Indonesian movie Postcards from the Zoo is much like that, if not quite as pretentious. In fact, it’s a pretty slow-flowing movie. The first half of it embodies the title perfectly, being made up of everyday scenes from the Jakarta Zoo which are just like postcards. It then takes a somewhat jarring and abrupt turn, from a family destination setting to that of a nightclub/massage parlor.
Our protagonist is Lana, a pretty girl who has grown up in the Jakarta Zoo, having been abandoned there by her zoo-keeper father. She knows everything about animals, but rarely ventures outside the zoo. Her dream is to one day be able to touch the stomach of the zoo’s giraffe, which doesn’t let anybody close enough to do that.
One day a handsome parlor magician dressed as a cowboy shows up. Lana is fascinated by him, and since the zoo is undergoing some cutbacks, she decides to become his lovely assistant, dressed in a very cute, short-skirted Tiger Lily outfit. So now the cowboy and the indian go out into the wide world of Jakarta, trying to get gigs for their magician’s act. Both of them are strange and introverted people who completely live and breathe their respective roles; they never break character. As such they seem like a perfect fit for each other, but the cowboy eventually tires of the set-up and leaves. Lana finds herself stranded at the last place they had a gig, which was a slightly sleazy nightclub/massage parlor/brothel kind of place, and not knowing where else to go, she is groomed to be a massage girl. This seems to go well enough, but Lana gets bored and pines for the zoo, and the giraffe, longing to return.
Overall, the movie is extremely cutesy-strange; the first half is pleasant but rather sedate, and the second half is kind of stylish in that funny-odd way that doesn’t really seem to have any meaningful message or purpose beyond low-level cute weirdness. Hence, in some ways the movie almost reaches the level of being a memorable one, but in other ways it sadly lacks the substance to be a properly satisfying experience.
Cast: Ladya Cheryl, Nicholas Saputra, Adjie Nur Ahmad, Klarysa Aurelia Raditya and others.
Runtime: 95 min.
Country: Indonesia / Hong Kong / Germany