Sweet Dreams Movie

Sweet Dreams

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A strange but not entirely successful film, “Sweet Dreams” is a memorable movie that turns colonialism into pitch-black slapstick comedy.

Ena Sendijarevic both wrote and directed this film, which takes place on a small, relatively unknown Indonesian island in 1900. Jan (Hans Dagelet), the sugar plantation baron seems to have died. “As far as everyone knows he is probably dead,” one character points out. “So the world thinks he’s dead, but there isn’t any body,” another explains.

This makes it more difficult for all parties involved to determine who will inherit and decide what to do with it. It’s almost like a murder mystery in progress but Ena Sendijarević does not want to execute such (fun!) narrative games ever again. Most of the storylines are launched straight away or hinted about in the film. What is left is how stories are told and why characters act as they do.

The most significant aspect, nevertheless, is that Jan has fathered a child named Karel (Rio kaj den Haas) through an illicit relationship with Siti (Hayati Azis) an Indonesian plantation worker. When the old man died, his son Cornelis (Florian Myjer) and his pregnant wife Josefien came from Netherlands via railcar around the globe in order to join his widow Agathe (Renée Soutendijk) deep inside mud ridden jungle so that they can figure out their next step. The revelation that Jan has decided to leave all of his wealth to Karel gives rise to subsequent anger, hatred and malpractice.

Grief makes people do strange things. Grief plus hope of gaining some money takes it further into perilousness and madness. For instance Reza (Muhammad Khan), one of them being agitator on behalf of other workers fighting against non-payment of their respective salaries was key player in this story, presenting himself as not only the person that will fight against The Man (and his women) along with seducing Siti into leaving with Karel so they could be together forever.

Unfortunately, the first third of the movie is thuddingly obvious. In fact, Sweet Dreams is always easy to read between the lines because each general observation about how ridiculous and evil imperialism is constituted part of a deliberate attempt that was made by author to hammer those points home. A cockroach crawls across what remains of a fancy dinner.

On a wet road, Josefien disembarks from a carriage stuck in mud and spends some time to have her beautiful boots made dirty. Not that anything being shown in this film is false, but rather these are all things we already know but yet presented as daring or rebellious.

The narrative becomes interesting when Jan posthumously acknowledges in writing that he has fathered an illegitimate son who takes over everything. Thus “Sweet Dreams” becomes something like a Coen brothers film where obtuse deluded or repugnant people conspire against each other and get what they deserve either because their previously insular world collectively suddenly starts paying attention while passing judgment on their obvious inadequacies or else due to characters wrongfully assuming themselves to be ruthless or cunning only for them to turn out being cowardly and/or dumb.

In line with Sendijarević, Emo Weemhoff’s camera and Lot Rossmark’s editing, ‘Sweet Dreams’ is over-aestheticized. This movie uses squarish, 4×3 “Academy” ratio; mostly wide-angle lenses that are cartoonishly distorting of people and objects (particularly when the camera moves quickly).

Almost every establishing shot is symmetrically framed but not in a Stanley Kubrick or Wes Anderson kind of way, instead it looks like some fetishistic fan art for and inspired by the two filmmakers. The things in each frame as well as their arrangement resemble elements in an enclosed glassed-in art installation. The movie is about a zoo full of people. Up to a point, the film watches its characters with coldly analytical; sometime mercilessly piercing eyes.

But then everything finally gives way to something more explicitly lyrical or even dreamlike. It appears that after this film loses interest in satire and slapstick, it takes more detours to present certain strange and beautiful images or situations (and often ones including the elements: water, fire, wind and soil). There isn’t exactly an ending to the story; rather it stops only after delivering several moments and set pieces that are shot and edited (in one case, cross-cut) with a mysteriously deliberate deliberateness which is typical of expressionistic modern art.

The last twenty minutes contain some flights of fancy that are so beautiful they make much more sense if seen in retrospect than they do at the time you sit down to watch this film. One take close to the end lasts so long yet shocks just as much as those done by David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Return where one sees an entire bar floor being mopped from start to finish while Booker T. & The MGs’ “Green Onion” plays unabridged. A filmmaker who becomes increasingly relevant and original due to intense attachment to her subconscious and full surrender to it is a plausible explanation.

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