A patriarch’s death and the ensuing power struggles add to the troubles of a sugar factory in the last years of the Dutch colonial era in Indonesia.
A sharp-eyed satire set on a sugar plantation on an Indonesian island in the final years of the Dutch colonial era, Ena Sendijarević’s second feature is a potent reminder that European colonialism did not come to a tidy ending in the innumerable countries it affected (to say nothing of the neocolonialism still impacting much of the globe). Instead, Sweet Dreams provides compelling evidence of the mess these wider historical forces make in the lives of the characters within the volatile microcosm the director portrays so vividly.
For the family and business led by the imperious patriarch Jan (Hans Dagelet), the rot had clearly set in long before these events. That said, Jan isn’t around to see the changes to come, what with his sudden death after one of his nightly visits to the room of Siti (Hayati Azis), his Indonesian housekeeper. With the disorder in the household further compounded by a workers’ protest, his widow Agathe (Renée Soutendijk) demands the return from Europe of Jan’s pompous son Cornelius (Florian Myjer) and heavily pregnant daughter-in-law Josefin (Lisa Zweerman). When they all learn of Jan’s decision to bequeath his estate to his son with Siti, the ensuing power struggles add a further degree of turbulence.
Realizing the promise she displayed in her first feature Take Me Somewhere Nice and shorts such as Import — a Short Cuts selection at the Festival in 2016 — Sendijarević delivers a film that’s remarkable for its ruthless intelligence, visual flair, and astute take on the ways personal relationships can be poisoned by the systems and structures in which we operate.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: violence, mature themes, frightening scenes, sexually suggestive scenes, coarse language