Review: Postcards from the Zoo

I knew I had to watch at least one movie from the array of movies being offered as part of the Black Movie movie festival here in Geneva, if only to finally experience what it’s like to go to a movie festival. Coincidentally, one of the movies they are screening is a movie from an Indonesian filmmaker, shot at the Ragunan zoo, the zoo that’s so close to my house that I sometimes consider it my backyard!

Despite my reservations about Indonesian movies (they generally lack good plot, good dialog and good acting, and have a tendency to be quite cheesy, although I’ve heard that some of them have gotten better lately), I decided that watching an Indonesian movie while in Switzerland would be well worth it. And so on Saturday night, I ended up at the Spoutnik cinema, sitting on one of their sofas (on a side note, I love the cinema for its quirkiness), watching “Postcards from the Zoo“.


It didn’t take long for me to realize that this movie was going to fulfill my (negative) expectations. Yes, it was a confusing story (read: lacked a good plot), the dialog was rough and annoying (lacked good dialogs), and the acting was, uhm… well, stoic (lacked good acting). Yet the more I think about it, the better this movie seems to be, in its own strange way. If anything, the symbolism, juxtaposition and reflection inter weaved in this 95-minute-but-feels-like-forever movie is so intense that most people just miss it.


The story of Postcards from the Zoo centers around the little girl Lana, who we see for the first 10 minutes or so of the movie, wandering around the zoo. She was looking for her father, who apparently has left her behind. My mom did that once to my aunt’s pet monkey that kept messing up our kitchen. She caught the monkey and released it in the zoo. Little Lana thus is like an animal, presumably unwanted, brought to a new habitat. It’s interesting how little Lana doesn’t seem to be sad nor scared about this. She calls out for her father for a while, but then decided that that was enough effort and just went on exploring, somewhat playfully, observing her surroundings. The last scene we see little Lana, she’s watching a little tiger playing with his caretaker. Next scene, Lana walks into the tigers cage and tells a story to get the tiger to eat. Both have grown up, yet both still very much a child at heart: the tiger sulking, not wanting to eat, and later playing with a ball while being bathed. Further into the movie, we will see Lana getting into the children rides, dreaming away, further implying her childish innocence.

Cut to almost the end of the movie, when Lana ends up as a masseuse/prostitute. Here we get strange video cuts of scenes at the club where Lana is serving a customer followed by scenes of the zoo, more importantly scenes of children at the zoo, and Lana looming around the screen in scenes that makes you think of Where’s Waldo. With each repetition, her existence becomes more and more vague. Here, her childhood innocence has been lost and she becomes less and less significant as a person.

Now that I think about it, does the cowboy/magician, this strange character that makes the movie even stranger, also convey the same message of childhood innocence? After all, who didn’t dream of cowboys and who wasn’t fascinated by magicians? And then of course, Lana’s “dark” life began when the cowboy/magician disappeared on her. Or maybe he was never real? However, when you lose your childhood dreams and your eyes of wonder… you become stuck in a bleak world. The movie isn’t depressing though, in the end we see Lana escaping the “bleak world” in the smiling cow car (just another strange thing), going back to the magician’s lair where she finds a magic dress and then finally, in a princess like dress, manages to touch the giraffe’s belly, the one thing she has always wanted to do. So you can escape, you can reach your dreams, you just have to take action and never forget that you had them.

postcards from the zoo 01

Speaking of the giraffe, here’s a creature that shows up A LOT in the movie, either in person or being talked about. The underlying question here is of course: why? Well, let’s see… why don’t we start with what we know about the giraffe, as mentioned in the movie. First of all, this giraffe is the ONLY giraffe in the zoo, in fact the only one in Jakarta. It is alone, just like Lana (who by the way is the only female in the array of people working in the zoo). The giraffe is quite often described as being strong and powerful despite it’s feeble and soft appearance. Just like Lana?

The workers at the zoo say that the giraffe likes to step out of its cage at night and explore the zoo on its own. Adventurous. Wanting to see what else is out there. When Lana finally decides to go out of the zoo (following the magician who might or might not be real), the camera cuts to the giraffe in the zoo, yet in a place that doesn’t really look like its usual place. Hmm… maybe the stories are true? In any case, Lana and the giraffe are both out of their habitat.

It seems to me the more I write about this movie, the more connections I seem to see and realize. Like the fact that little Lana touched the belly of a giraffe statue, and grown up Lana’s dream is to touch a real giraffe’s belly. Childhood dreams vs. reality? And going back to the strange cowboy/magician, what if he was in fact imaginary, simply a fragment of Lana’s imagination as she ponders having to leave the zoo (he shows up out of nowhere after the zoo official announced that people who are not official employees will no longer be allowed to stay in the compounds). This would explain his mysteriousness, as well as the scene where Lana cuts in front of him and repeats a set of dialog the cowboy once had before, just a few moments before the scene where the cowboy disappears. Perhaps this shows that Lana took ownership again, confident with her new life outside of the zoo, thus eliminating the need of the magic protector.

Or maybe the fact is that it was just a bad movie and I’m trying to salvage it by adding all sorts of meaning, connecting dots and reading signs that aren’t actually intended to be. In any case the movie does leave you in a dreamy state of mind, and would make an excellent relaxation video if you decide to just let it run in the background without paying too much attention to it.

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