Position Among the Stars (NC)

 

The Dutch film-maker Leonard Retel Helmrich here completes a trilogy of documentaries about everyday life in the slums of Jakarta. Does that sound worthy but grim? It isn't at all.

The film doesn't soft-pedal the cramped and unsanitary conditions which the Sjamsuddin family endure, yet its tone is buoyant, mischievous, wryly amusing.

Man of the house Bakti is almost a sitcom figure, tending his precious fighting fish, neglecting his wife, and hiding the TV when the poverty inspector calls round. He wants his niece Tari to go to college – she could be their ticket out of slum living – but he's rather Micawberish about earning money to help.

A convert to Islam, he doesn't go to the Mosque yet blows his top when he finds that his Catholic mum, Rumidjah, has been taking her grandchild to church. Helmrich's beady but affectionate eye misses little, presenting a portrait of squabbling togetherness that's both particular and universal – we don't have to live in streets where the rats are big as cats and locusts skitter through the soup, thank God, but we can hardly fail to recognise the generational tensions pulling the family apart, or the habits of love and tradition that keep them close.

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