Director - Riri Riza
This Indonesian film about growing up and the bonds of friendship and family has an admirable innocence that helps to hide some of its flaws.
The sequel to last year's Rainbow Troop and based on a series of ultra-popular Indonesian novels, The Dreamer is a charming film. A little sprawling maybe, but the honesty at its heart is endearing. The story of overcoming adversity and fighting for your dreams, whilst not ground-breaking is affecting, moving and relatable.
The story begins in Bogor in 1999. The main character, our narrator, Ikal is a dejected looking economics major working as a post officer. He explains how things were supposed to be different and how his friend who he was supposed to get through this with has abandoned him. Despite the fact this is a sequel, it is a story that exists in its own right, allowing the audience to hit the ground running. We are taken in flashback to the key moment in Ikal's childhood, when he meets his best friend Arai. Arai's parents have died and he is living by himself in the middle of nowhere. He is adopted by Ikal's family and the boys quickly become best friends. From the off, their yin and yang dynamic is clear and drives the relationship for the rest of the film. The trio are joined by the unnaturally obsessed with horses, Jimbron. The film follows them through two periods of their childhood, first as young boys and then aspiring high-school students, following their dreams, ambitions and the bumps in the road along the way.
The film looks beautiful and paints Belitung, the rural location where it is set, vividly. The camerawork is high standard the whole way through. A nice shot on a golf course has a man teeing off in the foreground for the camera to focus into the background where we see our three main characters wearing those conical rice paddie hats to avoid being hit by the golf balls they are collecting. The school, the fish packing centre and the dock are all great locations and Riza uses them well. Through the boys attempts to save money we are taken through the entire village as they do odd jobs here and there; it is a fascinating window into the culture. By the end of the film you feel as acquainted with the village as you do with its inhabitants.
The characters in the film are all well rounded, with their own arcs and sub-plots. The relationship between the teachers at the school is handled well and develops believably. The idealistic young teacher that gets the kids to recite their favourite inspirational quotes and the stern school master, constantly complaining about the state of youth these days, as you would imagine in a film like this they begin to understand each other. It is thanks to the actors that this manages to be convincing. Though this depth comes at a cost and the plot threads draw away from what should be the real focus of the film, the boys and their journey. It is painfully evident that it is an adaptation of a book, you can almost hear the film creaking at the seams as Riza tries to cram it all in.
Their is a welcome lightness of touch running through the film that stops the story becoming weighted down. One moment that draws a smile is the three boys watching the lone ranger fantasizing their ideal roles, Arai is in Lone Ranger get up, Ikal in as Wild West Indian and the camera slowly moves over to Jimbol who has been replaced with a live horse. The film is littered with these moments, winking film posters and any scene with the wandering band in it, fitting the atmosphere perfectly. The musical maestro that Arai becomes enthralled with is an amusing character, and one of the few areas of the film that could have done with some more screen time.
The Dreamer is a good but flawed film. The narrative flashback structure doesn't quite work. and distracts. The ending with the boys grown up and stumbling into each other in the big city feels a little unnecessary. This could have been implied and carried even more weight. The climatic moment to the narrative, and the most moving part should have been a full stop, but the film carries on for a further twenty minutes, diminishing the impact of what is a heart-warming story. At some points you wonder just what the zenith of the story actually is, as potential ending point after ending point are passed.
The film's saving grace is the heart of gold at its centre. It is a powerful story and impossible to dislike. Having not read the book, (it is only available in Indonesian) it feels harsh to judge a film on its success as an adaptation but it is clearly not accuracy that is the problem, it is knowing what to leave in and what to cut out. In taking a good book and making it into a cohesive and fluid movie you have to make difficult choices and The Dreamer avoids them. Unfortunately, even with all its charm it is let down by this. Ultimately though, despite these problems it still manages to be a compelling and utterly moving film.