Tribeca 2012 Review: POSTCARDS FROM THE ZOO Offers a Menagerie of Wonders

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
According to Lana there are three types of beings that find themselves at the Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta. Firstly, there are the visitors (the watchers and those that want to be watched). Then there are the animals (those who watch back). And finally there are the people who live and work at the zoo; some of them are the zookeepers, others, like Lana are refugees, vagrants, free spirits who find solace in the outskirts of the zoo, and a friend or two to sit by at the fire in the blue twilight, under the trees.

Abandoned by her father at the zoo as a little girl, Lana is by no means a lost child. Growing up side by side with a tiger cub, she becomes a curious and confident young woman, one who finds infinite wonders amongst the hippos and elephants, the seniors who use the jogging paths, the youth who play soccer, and the families who picnic. She gives lectures on the history of the giraffe in the western world, cleans cages, consoles gloomy tigers, and operates the rides in the amusement park. For all intents and purposes she is not an official zoo employee, recognized by the government or any other office. The zoo keepers themselves are a group of elders who seem to be more inline with the animal world, the old world, to be all that concerned about where such people as Lana come from. They welcome her; she is just another part of this unique family at Ragunan; a family that includes a philosophical musician named Oom Dave and a mysterious magician who dresses as a cowboy; a young man who Lana is perhaps the most astonished by.

When an old friend returns to the zoo, decked out in military uniform, he informs the vagrants that the government won't have anything more to do with this ramshackle community living at the zoo any longer, and they best vacate or else. Lana's nights of driving the cow bus around seem numbered. Further distressed and a little stunned by Oom Dave's abrupt departure, Lana sides herself with the cowboy, taking her first steps into a larger, and much darker world beyond the zoo walls. Soon she finds herself dressing like an Indian princess, learning magic, selling youth-fortifying elixirs, and wearing leopard costumes for the customers at an upscale massage parlor.  

Filmmaker Edwin (Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly) treats Lana's journey into adulthood with an ethereal touch, filling each frame of his picture with a magical realism that suits the landscapes of Ragunan and Jakarta beautifully. There's a certain kind of melancholic whimsy and understated absurdity in Postcards from the Zoo too. And though Edwin's world is one that is usually beyond or uninterested with conflict and drama, Ladya Cheryl as Lana gives us a heroine to root for. She exudes an effortless, giving charm, and when she returns to the zoo as a visitor, displaced amidst the crowds, lost for the first time in her life, the magic that has filled so much of the film all but evaporates in alienating wide shots where we almost have to play a game of Where's Waldo to find her. If Edwin has a message for us in Postcards from the Zoo then it must be something along the lines of "believe in yourself; know your home; and be curious, always."  A message that may sound trite, if only because that seems to be what many movies wish to impart to us. But we must listen here because Postcards from the Zoo is that extra rare, extra special film; special for its child-like nature, its delight in sharing and imparting wisdom and knowledge; in playing and in growing.

If one can fall into the flow of the dreamy, deliberately slow and meandering pacing of this story about a girl and her giraffe, then one will find Postcards from the Zoo to be a most generous film, indeed. 

Postcards from the Zoo screens Monday, April 23rd, Wednesday, the 25th and Saturday, the 28th. Click here for more info and to buy tickets. 


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