Bosnian-Dutch filmmaker Ena Sendijarević’s Locarno prizewinner “Sweet Dreams,” a droll satire set on a sugar plantation in colonial-era Indonesia, has released its first trailer. Athens-based production and sales outfit Heretic has given Variety exclusive access ahead of the film’s North American premiere in the Centerpiece section of the Toronto Film Festival (see below).
“Sweet Dreams” is set on a remote island in the Dutch East Indies during the waning days of the colonial era. It centers on Dutch plantation owner Jan (Hans Dagelet) and his wife, Agathe (Renée Soutendijk), who are at the top of the food chain. That is, until Jan, upon returning from his nightly visit to his native concubine, Siti (Hayati Azis), suddenly drops dead in front of his wife.
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Desperate to keep the privileges of her status quo, Agathe forces her estranged son Cornelius (Florian Myjer) and his heavily pregnant wife, Josefien (Lisa Zweerman), to travel from Europe and take over the family business. In the midst of a workers’ uprising, Cornelius displays his plans for progressive change. But when Jan’s will puts Siti at the forefront of the family estate, ideals prove to be idle and blood thicker than water.
Premiering at this year’s Locarno Film Festival, where it was feted with a best performance award for Soutendijk, “Sweet Dreams” was described as a “gorgeous, sardonic portrait of colonial decline” by Variety’s Jessica Kiang, who lavished praise on Sendijarević’s “magnificently composed, eerily satirical” and “startlingly accomplished second film.”
“In only her second feature, after the Rotterdam-awarded ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice,’ the Bosnian-Dutch filmmaker has established herself as a formidable talent with an eye for absurdity in Academy ratio, and a feel for the manicured, placid surfaces that contain rot and rebellion just as corsetry cinches in flesh,” Kiang wrote.
In a director’s statement provided to Variety, Sendijarević sheds light on a film she describes as “a horrific fairy tale” and explains why she wanted to portray the atrocities of Dutch-colonial rule in Indonesia “through an absurdist and alienating lens.”
“‘Sweet Dreams’ is a film that emphasizes the banality of evil. It is not a conventional period film, but a stylized satire, one that presents reality as a magical, at times surrealist fiction,” says Sendijarević. “In this way I wanted to build a bridge to the present, to make a mirror in which we can recognize our current world.”
She continues: “With ‘Sweet Dreams’ I wanted to focus not only on the victims of colonialism, but on all different positions in this system. And thereby not falling into the trap of a victimizing gaze or too simplistic good guy-bad guy oppositions. It was precisely to illuminate the complexity of colonial dynamics that were the goals during the making of this film.”
“Sweet Dreams” is produced by Erik Glijnis and Leontine Petit of Lemming Film, in co-production with Erik Hemmendorff of Plattform Produktion, Kristina Börjeson of Film I Vast, Martien Vlietman of VPRO and Mandy Marahimin of Tala Media. Sales of “Sweet Dreams” will be co-represented by LevelK as part of a temporary cooperation with Heretic.
The acquisition marks the second collaboration between the Athens-based sales and production outfit and Sendijarević, whose debut, “Take Me Somewhere Nice,” won the Special Jury Award at Rotterdam as well as the top prize at the Sarajevo Film Festival.
Here’s the first international trailer for “Sweet Dreams”:
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