Sweet Dreams 2023

Sweet Dreams
Sweet Dreams
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The writer of this is Ena Sendijarević, his film Sweet Dreams 2023 is beautifully composed and darkly ironic. It has acid in its veins instead of sugar plantation settings. On the other hand, it could be formaldehyde given the embalmed corpse look of a Dutch colonial family that dissected elegantly their values. The Bosnian-Dutch filmmaker has only made two features with her second one being “Take Me Somewhere Nice” which was awarded at Rotterdam to become an outstanding talent who appreciates absurdity in Academy ratio and an understanding for manicured facades concealing decay and rebellion like corsets encase flesh.

By 1900 the Dutch East Indies corner is lush, marshy jungle. The air is humid with biting insects. Crickets can be differentiated from gnats or those whining mosquitoes because Vincent Sinceretti’s rich sound design will help you do that. A part of this wilderness has been tamed or rather vandalized for sugarcane plantations while a dark majestic dwelling mansion was built for refinery proprietors nearby; where Agathe (Renée Soutendijk) moves throughout only speaking from her ebony walls as though she were an autocratic phantom; always wearing high-necked bone-colored dresses which appear even too traditional for the period, except when she uses sugar derived from producing tea.

This Indonesian housekeeper named Siti (a credible stealthy Hayati Azis), who lives in Africa becomes a pragmatic observer of life because of self-preservation instincts and because she knows that Jan is Karel’s father (Rio Den Haas). Gradually these factors tend to make us start thinking about Syti’s mysterious personality traits as we read Sendijarević’s intelligent script amidst all Reza’s amorous advances towards plantation workers’ trade union leader among them.

While his wife rots away at home, Jan runs the business and hunts tigers occasionally accompanied by Karel, a white child with the racist name and misplaced sense of entitlement. This is an extreme case of cruelty beyond direct colonization-related violence and robbery. So thoroughly spoiled by father’s love that he even giggles when Jan humiliates one of his Indonesian servants harshly.

in”Sweet Dreams 2023″ One evening, after raping Siti as he often did, Jan collapses in his conjugal bedchamber and Agathe (who they are to each other can be gleaned from this simple gesture) slyly moves bell further so that it’s just beyond his reach. Suddenly widowed, Agathe recalls her pregnant son Cornelius (Florian Myjer) from Holland with his wife Josefien (Lisa Zweerman), for him to start running the sugar factory. However once there they discover that Jan has left everything to Karel, their unknown half brother whom Cornelius was born alongside. Rationality is exposed as a veneer while the family decides how best to hold on to their wealth; everything pointing towards an ironic ending including a poetic suicide worth being at the center if any other film called for it though Sendijarević has made it seem more of an anticlimax.

The story of this fervent novel “Sweet Dreams 2023” that was played in hot countries is distant, chill and cold. The director, working together with the DP Emo Weemhoff who also shot her debut film has come up with a distinctive visual language characterised by a formalist and pictorialist framing and symmetrical composition that suggests power’s asymmetrical infliction during colonialism which resembles Lucrecia Martel’s Zama or more recently Felipe Gálvez Haberle’s The Settlers. This is true for costume design (Bernadette Corstens) and production design (Myrte Beltman) which are used as narrative devices here — images are minimalist and everything shown becomes symbolically significant from an ornate china tea-set to a lace collar to an ill-suited shoe sinking into the tropical muck.  

One can tell so much from Oosterop’s hair and makeup alone,  it actually tells its own story. Here skin is vital, not only because of its colour but also its condition: elegant Josephine turns into a perspiring sunburned frizzy virago growing ever bigger with pregnancy while we watch her aggravated mosquito bites getting worse. It reflects also the idea that these occupiers are under attack not just from indigenous peoples but from their environment – one they otherwise despise.  Notably, every hate like this tree, soil or air hates them too, yet it has bidirectionally destructive effects. Therefore, even if the dividingly dreamlike conclusion has cathartic comeuppance value; it is also fraught with fear about our future-now-which will be handed down to the single remaining character in this subtle dark fable: a child born of two worlds who belongs to neither and learns nothing except the most violent lessons from both sides.

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