Lana is abandoned by her father in Jakarta zoo at a young age and so she is raised by the community that lives in the zoo. When Lana is grown up (played by Ladya Cheryl) she continues to live and work in the zoo, gaining knowledge of the animals and being fascinated by the lone giraffe that also resides there. But the community that lives at the zoo are told they cannot stay there anymore unless they are zoo officials and so when a mesmerising magician dressed like a cowboy (Nicholas Saputra) enters the community, Lana leaves the zoo with him and enters a seedy world she is unfamiliar with. As Lana becomes the magician’s assistant she has to grapple with adjusting to life outside the zoo and when he mysteriously vanishes she has to learn to fend for herself.
After reading the synopsis for this film I was very excited, unfortunately while Postcards from the Zoo starts off promisingly the second half becomes tedious as the story enters a completely different territory. Overtly literal juxtapositions of Lana in a massage parlour and the animals in the zoo become painfully monotonous and insult the intelligence of the film’s audience. We never see Lana being raised, it just jumps to her being grown up and interacting with the wild animals. Written zoological definitions are presented to us throughout the film and facts about the animals are repeated.
A large proportion of the scenes occur at that mysterious and magical time between night and day, the light providing a dusky dreamlike ambiance. The animals are given just as much screen time as the humans and are gorgeously shot, a hippo and its baby wallow in the water and rain falls on a close up of an elephant’s skin. Lush green vegetation of the zoo adds to the beautiful imagery of nature, captured in this man-made environment. These images contrast with the bright artificial rides for children that are also attractions at the zoo, we see Lana regularly go on these rides, depicting the childlike qualities she still possesses. The rapid change in tone that the film takes is disconcerting and often confusing, little information revealed. A scene at a massage parlour is followed by an image of a snake in the zoo, these crude juxtapositions ruining the charming dreamlike atmosphere that had successfully been built up.
With the lingering shots and lack of dialogue, backstory and general coherence of plot, for many this will be difficult viewing and the film does enter the realm of tedium. However, there is something mesmerising about Postcards from the Zoo, the location and imagery fascinating but the story weak and unclear. We see Lana back in the zoo in the second half, lingering and doing nothing in crowds of people. The shot compositions are really interesting, often Lana’s location within them unobvious to begin with, off centre and almost obscured from view. It is these moments that make the film interesting.
However, the comparisons between the animals in the zoo and people are rather unoriginal, Lana becoming ‘number 33’ at the massage parlour like an animal in an exhibit, and these obvious and repetitive associations really let the film down. For a film about longing and desires, both animal and human, it has little in the way of conclusion, leaving the audience with a longing for clarity. We are left with a multitude of questions unanswered.
Overall Postcards from the Zoo was disappointing. With such gorgeous imagery and a fascinating location it had the potential to be really great, but with an incoherent plot, little character development and tedious juxtapositions it became unrewarding and tiresome. But from a director who calls himself simply ‘Edwin’ what can you expect?
Writers: Edwin (writer), Daud Sumolang and Titien Wattimena (co-writers)
Stars: Ladya Cheryl, Adjie Nur Ahmad, Klarysa Aurelia and Nicholas Saputra
Runtime: 90 mins
Country: Indonesia, Germany, Hong Kong