Dir: Ena Sendijarevic | Cast: Renée Soutendijk, Hayati Azis, Lisa Zweerman, Florian Myjer, Muhammad Khan, Hans Dagalet, Rio Den Haas | Dutch, Drama 102’
This stylish and sumptuous Colonial satire is the sophomore feature of Bosnian Dutch director Ana Sendijarevic who was lauded with multiple awards on the festival circuit with her debut Take Me Somewhere Nice.
Sweet Dreams harks back to Holland’s prosperous colonial roots in the Dutch East Indies where subversive things are happening in the tropical heat of a verdant sugar plantation in 1900. Much to the cynical consternation of his elegant wife Agatha (Renée Soutendijk), the ageing owner Jan (Hans Dagelet) has fathered a child, Karel (Rio Kai Den Haas) with his Indonesian housekeeper Siti (Hayati Azis) but subsequently meets his maker after a bed-hopping episode one steamy night.
Naturally nothing will be the same again as the family, son Cornelius (Florian Myjer) and his pregnant wife Josefien (Lisa Zweerman) crack the whip but are then exposed to the coalface of colonialism when they discover that Karel is the sole heir to family fortune but also that housemaid and her partner Reza (Muhammad Khan) refuse to continuing kowtowing to his command and are plunged into a state of gently controlled emotional chaos in the sweltering heat of the jungle.
Sendijarevic’s sympathies are clear; the colonials are painted as vile caricatures, but she creates just the right enigmatic atmosphere of subterfuge that occasionally echoes Wes Anderson and Lucrecia Martel (Zama). With a deft lightness of touch Sweet Dreams captures this exploitative state of affairs with humour and immaculate set pieces in an amusingly surreal drama driven forward by an evocative almost overpowering occasional score by Martial Foe.
Ana Sendijarevic and her DoP Emo Weemhoff shoot in the 1.33:1 Academy ratio in a story divided into chapters. This keeps us at a respectable distance from a rather melancholic narrative that marks the end of an era for Western dominance as the Dutch lose their control on a previously ordered colonial existence which ended when Indonesia declared independence in August 1945. @MeredithTaylor
NETHERLANDS OSCAR ENTRY | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2023