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Kebun binatang (2012)
Those who come to look...
This hard to categorise curio from Indonesia starts as a story about a little girl called Lana who was abandoned at a zoo and has spent all her life living there amongst zoo workers, assorted homeless people and, of course, the animals.
At first, it plays as a cross between documentary and surrealist fantasy. The everyday activities at the zoo are accompanied by narration which ruminates on the lifestyles of different animals, including humans "who come to look" and humans "who don't want to be seen". Title cards flash up every so often with definitions of conservation phrases such "endemic", "ex-situ" and "re-introduction". These take on new meaning in the second half, where the story moves into much darker territory. Lana, now grown up, falls for an enigmatic magician dressed as a cowboy. Their romance takes her out of the zoo for the first time and leads her to the brothel where she was abandoned at the age of 3. She is taken in and taught the art of entertaining clients, especially how to keep them interested for long enough that they book extra sessions. Scenes of animals being tended to and visitors watching them are juxtaposed with the pampering rituals in the massage parlour and men viewing girls through a spy hole. The meaning is clear, we are all trapped in a zoo of some kind.
Lana's graceful demeanour and inner strength give her a special affinity with the zoo's lone giraffe, who we learn much about. Other scene stealing animals include a hippo having its teeth cleaned, and, outside of the zoo, the bizarre spectacle of a tame monkey wearing mask made out of a dolls head.
The ethereal cinematography and ponderous pacing lend the film a dreamlike, otherworldly quality, as we the audience observe the natural phenomena of childlike wonder giving way to the "adapt or die" realities of adulthood.
Souithern Fried Surreal Kid Comedy Thing
A truly independent American production, Kid-Thing was produced, written, directed, recorded and shot by the Texan Zellner Brothers. And if one of them was a 10 year old girl, they would have taken the lead role as well, but seeing as they're not, the brothers instead play her father, Marvin, and his dumb ass sidekick Caleb.
Annie is a 10 year old girl living in a rundown Hicksville town somewhere in Texas. With no apparent friends and a father who pays little attention to her, she lives on a diet that consists almost entirely of sweets (breakfast is a big multicoloured bowl of them, with milk) and spends her days ambling through the streets and surrounding woodland, setting off firecrackers, pelting things at cars and various other acts of minor vandalism.
At first this looks like it's shaping up to be a southern fried American take on the social realist work of another hardworking pair of film making siblings, Belgium's Dardennes Brothers. But a couple of scenes in, things take a different turn when Annie stumbles across a hole in the ground and hears an old woman calling for help. She returns with food to feed the mysterious voice, who identifies herself as Esher, but refuses her pleas to help her get out of there.
We are now in a quirky fairy tale world where everything is just a little off kilter. The brothers delight in scene after scene of unexpected comic moments that make ingenious use of the locations, props and people they had to hand a rotting dead cow, a blind guitarist who can sing and play songs backwards (a Kings of Leon number, at a guess), a hypnotised chicken - and the little details - dead cockroaches on the windowsill, weeds sprouting through paving slabs, a tramp sleeping under newspaper at a bus stop. It's worth seeing just Annies unique sandwich making technique.
The brothers made a brave choice in casting Sydney Aguire as Annie, who doesn't fit the cute kid role that is normally required for this sort of thing. Instead we get a tomboyish force of nature with a cruel, destructive streak, but who is also sensitive enough to convey a whole host of emotions and to always keep us guessing as to what she will do next.