Indonesian family become 'Stars' in documentary

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Old 24-Jan-2011
Punjabi Gabru
Post Indonesian family become 'Stars' in documentary

Indonesian family become 'Stars' in documentary

If the Loud family of
Santa Barbara, featured in the landmark PBS documentary, "An
American Family," had lived instead in a shantytown in Jakarta,
Indonesia, the resulting film would look something like a
remarkable trilogy of docs made by Dutch filmmaker Leonard Rentel
Helmrich, which concludes with "Position Among the Stars."
Helmrich has observed the Shamshuddin family living in a
Jakarta slum for a dozen years to make his cinema verite saga.
While the tumultuous changes that have rocked Indonesian society
swirl around the family, of course, more than anything Rentel
Helmrich has intimately captured a family in transition as they
adjust to bewildering gaps in education, outlook, religion and
even class among three generations jammed into cramped quarters.
In The Eye of the Day (2001), the family got caught up in the
revolution that toppled the dictator Suharto from power. In Shape
of the Moon (2004), the latter a winner of the Sundance Grand
Jury Prize, the rise of Islamic power buffeted the family.
A thumbnail description of "Position" might be: Teenage
daughter Tari emerges as the family's star as democracy and
corruption grip the country. The trouble with this thumbnail is
that this doc all too closely mirrors life itself -- it's messy
and easily distracted. Her dad's quarrels with her mom, a near
fire as the family converts from cooking with oil to cheaper gas,
the father's precarious position as a "neighborhood manager" all
shift the focus away from Tari.
Yet the possibility that she may be the first in her family
to experience higher education dominates the story line. The
father even drags her poor grandmother back from life in her
ancestral village to take charge of the youngster and expose Tari
to traditional values in the run-up to her graduation and
application to college.
If there is a flaw in the director's fly-on-the-wall style,
it's that a viewer is never entirely certain how Tari herself
feels about the family pinning so much hope on her academic
career. She says she wants to go to college, but she seems much
keener about nightlife with girlfriends and her mobile phone. In
other words, she is a typical Western teenager in a traditional
Indonesian family.
Retel Helmrich insists he doesn't stage scenes, but moments
such as a small boy taking off running down narrow streets
followed by a cut to the boy running toward the camera seem to
contradict this. Other times the filmmaker gets distracted by
quarreling cats, an armless beggar or a mass circumcision that
feel tangential to family's tale.
On the other hand, a sequence where the family, about to be
visited by a government official to determine their eligibility
for welfare, frantically hide all their luxury items is not only
priceless but speaks loudly to the conflicting needs of poor
people who nevertheless crave Western consumer products.
All of this certainly situates the intimate details of a
family's life in a society experiencing a dangerously widened gap
between rich and poor.

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