Indonesian director Edwin’s new film, Postcards from the Zoo opens up with a dreamlike sequence of a very cute, young girl wondering alone in a forest, searching for her dad. She is so small, hardly manages to climb up the stairs in night’s darkness. Soon we realise she is in a massive zoo/leisure complex. Abandoned by her father, Lana (Ladya Cheryl) gets to be raised inside the zoo, this is where her obsession with giraffes begins. She becomes particularly keen on lonely giraffe at Ragunen Zoo.
As well as child-like natured Lana, giraffe also seems to have its own enigma surrounding him. One character in film suggests giraffes are the catalysts for imperialism, another one suggests they never bow and prideful animals. Arabic word for giraffe means fast-walker but whole film has completely the opposite pace.
Film’s narrative is segmented into chapters based around zoological terms, such as zoo, ex-situ conservation, endemic, reintroduction and translocation. Each time we get a new word, the narrative changes to reflect that concept. Lana is grown up to become a woman, still hanging around in the zoo, giving tours to visitors, washing and feeding animals and riding her cow bus alone at night which could be easily lifted out of a Studio Ghibli anime. She is oblivious to the outside world, easily mesmerised by a new resident, a cowboy magician who joins to inhabitants of the zoo. After hearing that ordinary people who made the zoo their home are no longer welcomed by the government, she leaves the zoo behind to join the magician and becomes his assistant dressed as an Indian girl. Rest of the film is set mostly grubby outside world.
Without giving too much away, all these segments also metaphors for situations Lana finds herself in. Regardless of dangers of the outside world, Lana needs to take this journey to get where she should be.
One of a kind Lana’s journey from safe and nurturing environment of the zoo to material orientated, exploitative nature of the outside world, perhaps is one extreme to another. Magical environment so lovingly created in the zoo somewhat gets spoilt by the reality of the world beyond its gates. Slow-paced and beautifully shot, there is a certain odd magical feel to Postcards from the Zoo.
If you are a fan of Edwin’s previous work or like slow-burners, we’d say go see it.