Today: April 17, 2024

Position Among the Stars

One impoverished family, three generations, facing globalisation in Indonesia is the setting for Position Among the Stars, the final part of Leonard Retel Helmrich’s award-winning sociological trilogy.

One impoverished family, three generations, facing globalisation in Indonesia is the setting for Position Among the Stars, the final part of Leonard Retel Helmrich’s award-winning sociological trilogy. Thus far, his latest addition has accumlated Sundance World Cinema Special Jury prize – Best Documentary 2011 and the International Documentary Film Festival Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary 2010. And rightly so.

Rather than another toturous lecture on Third World poverty, this documentary simply, but beautifully paints a vivid environment of co-dependence; the rats and the cockroaches vying for survival alongside their human neighbours.

Twelve years ago, Dutch documentary filmmaker Retel Helmrich decided to visit Indonesia, the birthplace of his Dutch father and Indonesian mother, looking for inspiration. The trip ignited his fascination with the country and he started filming the Shamshudin family living in a Jakarta slum. He followed them as the country shook off the rule of president Suharto as seen in documentary The Eye of the Day (2001) bringing the story of Indonesia’s struggling poor to vivid life; experienced a rise of Islamic power Shape of the Moon (2004), highlighting the fundamental shifts in a Christian and Muslim neighbourhood post 9-11 and earning the Sundance Grand Jury prize; and eventually nascent democracy, corruption and a widening income gap: Position Among the Stars. In his latest film, Retel continues to show us the underlying patterns of life in Indonesia, offering viewers a glimpse into the lives of the Sjamsuddin family showing a microcosm of life in modern Indonesia and its everyday battles with corruption, religious divides, addiction, generational gaps and social injustices.

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country and has the largest Muslim population. Grandmother Rumidjah, a confessed Christian, has left the bustle of Jakarta to live with her friend Tumisa in the countryside. Her son Bakti, who has converted to Islam, cares for orphaned grandchild Tari, but this is proving difficult alone, so Bakti brings his mother back to town.

The whole family regards the bright Tari as their only opportunity of improving their own status and ever being able to escape the slums of Jakarta. Bakti’s job as district chief doesn’t earn him much money, and as a result he trains fighting fish to gamble with them the side. While the whole family does everything it can to collect enough money to pay the college fees for Tari’s, she prefers to spend her time and money with her girlfriends exploring Jakarta’s nightlife. Her friends from secondary school also bring her into contact with the nouveau riche of Indonesia, which is miles away from her life in the slums. When her uncle finally loses the plot, after her continuous demands for life’s luxuries such as a camera mobile phone (rather than feed the family) and he whollops the B-Jesus out of her, you can’t help wanting to bytach-slap her yourself. A funny and extraordinary documentary.

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