Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Ideas of adulthood and childhood/acceptance and rejection are explored in this neo-realist film about a boy forced to grow up quickly by his circumstances. Jaya is an ordinary 12-year-old but, after the death of his mother he finds himself shipped off to a jermal - essentially and isolated fishing platform in the middle of the ocean - to be looked after by the father he has never met. On arrival, however, it turns out that despite receiving many letters from Jaya's mum about his son, his dad Johar has never opened them and has been living in blissful ignorance.

He greets the news in the manner of a teenager, essentially refusing to have anything to do with the youngster. Due to the shadow of his past, however, he can't allow him to leave and so he sets him to work among the other kids on the platform. The situation is Dickensian, with the kids essentially free-range, so Jaya finds he must adapt quickly to survive. Initially he is rejected by the kids as well as his father, so he has to sleep out on the deck, but he quickly learns to live on his wits and it isn't long before he is winning friends and making the sort of adult choices as regards rights and responsibilities that his father shies away from. As he comes to take on the mantle of adulthood, Johar finds he has a lot of growing up to do as well.

Although Jermal has three writers - Rayya Makarim, Orlow Seunke and Ravi L Bharwani - and three directors - Bharwani, Makarim and Utawa Tresno - the tight focus and singularity of vision suggests they are a perfect team. Emotions run high throughout the film, but the action never feels histrionic and the flashes of cruelty are offset by clever use of humour, which stresses Jaya's resilience. The soundscape is also put to good use, with the creak of the jermal helping to stress Jaya's isolation. When it comes to the acting, the fact the children - including Iqbal S Manurung, who plays Jaya - are all non-professionals, fuels the sense of reality that underpins the action.

This is the sort of film which, like last year's Dickens-inspired The Italian, is a family drama you could take older children to and come away knowing they are likely to have learnt something more valuable about relationships and responsibilities than they would get from the average Hollywood teen flick.

Reviewed on: 02 Aug 2009
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After his mother dies a young boy is forced to work for his estranged dad, facing bullying and rejection in the process.
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Director: Ravi L Bharwani, Rayya Makarim, Utawa Tresno

Writer: Rayya Makarim, Orlow Seunke, Ravi L Bharwani

Starring: Iqbal S Manurung, Didi Petet, Yayu AW Unru, Chairil A Dalimunthe

Year: 2008

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Indonesia


EIFF 2009

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If you like this, try:

The Italian
Thanks Maa