Position Among the Stars

Dutch director Leonard Retel Helmrich (Eye of the Day, 2001; Shape of the Moon, SFIFF 2005) returns with the latest chapter in his stunningly artful and intimate portrait of the Shamshudin family of Jakarta. After a pulse-quickening recap of choice moments from the first two films-all the introduction one needs-grandmother Rumidjah is summoned to the big city from the countryside by her son Bakti to counsel and motivate her teenage granddaughter Tari-the family's great hope for attaining middle-class stability. Tari is smart but devious, and more interested in boys, music, and colored contact lenses than studying. And presuming she does get into a university, where will the money come from for tuition? Meanwhile, Bakti breeds his beloved fighting fish and serves as a low-grade neighborhood functionary. The domestic drama of intersecting lives unfolds against a neon backdrop of rapidly increasing materialism in Indonesia and the fascinating underlying tension between secular modernism and Islam's central place in Indonesian life. Helmrich's virtuoso long sequences, distinguished by how-did-he-do-that camera movement, transmute the banality of the everyday into art without romanticizing it. In one memorable passage, he turns the unannounced arrival of workers fumigating the alleyways with clouds of pesticide smoke into a scene that proceeds from unnerving to otherworldly to absurdly funny. Helmrich's eye, though, remains fixed on his subjects. Tari may represent the future of the family and Indonesia, but Rumidjah is the rock, the moral center, the connection to the land, and, yes, the stars.

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