What do zoos and massage parlours have in common? Mono-monikered Indonesian maverick, Edwin, has the answer.
About half way through Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly, the surreal 2008 feature by mono-monikered Indonesian alchemist, Edwin, a blind, elderly dentist chants the lyrics to Stevie Wonder's 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' over and over while being raped from behind.
A similar ironic fusion of day-glo kitsch and aggressive sexual ickyness finds its way into the director's delightful latest, which is released direct to VOD in the UK via Distrify, iTunes and Blinkbox.
With more than a faint whiff of the Apachatpongs about it, Edwin's shoegazey rite-of-passage comedy charts the strange life of Lana (Klarysa Aurelia), a young toddler who is abandoned in Jakarta's Ragunan Zoo and ends up becoming one of their members of staff.
She's presented as the most tender of all the zoo's various (eccentric) employees and her rapport with the animals is strangely cosy, as we watch as, say, a giraffe french-kisses her ear or a tiger allows her to lounge in its cage and talk to it about the quality of the food. Fans of animal-based YouTubia will be in seventh heaven.
But then she forms another bond, this time with a monosyllabic cowboy magician(!) who coaxes her out of the confines of the zoo and into the big bad world. Though they initially try to subsist on selling a quackish health tonic in a bustling market, the fresh-faced and pure Lana soon chooses to become an employee at a seedy massage parlour.
She observes demonstations on how to pleasure her male customers and is given strict rules about how much she is supposed to charge for certain, ahem, "moves". Is she living out the cowboy's clandestine want, or has she found a job which requires a like-for-like adaptation of her animal nurturing expertise?
Since its premiere at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, the film was dismissed by many as being too winsome and hectically structured – why, all of a sudden, is Lana giving up the simple joys of zoo life to work in what is essentially the sex trade?
But Postcards From The Zoo does have more to it than meets the eye, not least a serious and sophisticated message about the nature of enforced captivity (in the zoo, physical; in the city, economic) and the animalistic nature of certain sectors of society. It's also gorgeously shot and framed by Edwin's regular DoP, Sidi Saleh.
What's more, there's a satisfying symmetry to the work as a whole down to the fact that Edwin essentially tells the same story twice. It's a about adapting to a habitat or a way of life, and scenes of Lana frolicking with the animals in the early part of the film are seen in a bracing new light when compared with her later baby oil-based shenanigans.
Although the film is essentially a fond depiction of the life and workings in this specific zoo, Edwin's amusing juxtaposition of zoos and massage parlours – particularly via the motif of rubbing, stroking and fondling – makes this a very worthwhile and tickling subversive watch. Seek it out.
Drifted from view after its 2011 Berlin Film Festival premiere.
Charming, quirky (in a good way) and beautifully photographed too.
You'll never look at a zoo in the same way again.