Thu, 09 Nov 2000

'Tuvalu' presents moviegoers with a dream

By Gotot Prakosa

JAKARTA (JP): On Saturday, Nov. 11, the Jakarta International Film Festival (JiFFest) will be presenting film buffs in this city with a fantastic movie called Tuvalu, preceded by a short film titled Hati-Hati Malam-Malam (Careful During The Night) by the young German filmmaker Veit Helmer.

Helmer demonstrated his extraordinary talents earlier this year through some of his short films which the Goethe Institut screened in Jakarta as well as in a other cities such as Yogyakarta, Bandung and Surabaya under a program to introduce some of the best of German short films to Indonesian audiences.

Surprise, one of his short films which won awards in various short film festivals around the world, left a deep impression among audiences in Indonesia. Helmer afterwards held a workshop at the Jakarta Arts Institute bringing with him this short film, told without words, to make a series of short films together with young Indonesian filmmakers. It was during that six-day workshop that he produced the short film Hati-Hati Malam-Malam, which will open Saturday's screening.

Hati-Hati Malam-Malam is the result of the combination of shared ideas about Jakarta after dark. The story is a resume of impressions about Jakarta, a city that can pose serious dangers for its inhabitants, especially for young girls on an outing during the night, and more specifically when they take some of the cheaper means of public transportation, such as bajaj (three- wheel motorized vehicle), along deserted streets. From this general idea, and using a minimum amount of dialog, the filmmakers have managed to construct an interesting movie that runs for no more than five minutes. The film, which was jointly produced by the Goethe Institut, the Jakarta Arts Institute and Konfiden took five days to shoot and has provided young Indonesian filmmakers with an invaluable wealth of experience.

During production, those youthful filmmakers observed how Veith Helmer, a young talent brimming with an uncompromising work ethos, dedicated himself totally to the filmmaker's art, disregarding all unnecessary bureaucratic trivialities and emotional outbursts. The result is a film worthy of entry into the festival. The total less than six days from first preparations to final shooting is regarded as more than satisfactory for a workshop turning out concrete results.

Tuvalu follows the showing of Hati-Hati Malam-Malam. It is Veit Helmer's first full feature film and one that affirms his individual and mature outlook as a filmmaker.

The film tells the story of Anton (Denis Lavant), the son of a dilapidated and deserted swimming pool owner, who has an elder brother named Gregor (E.J. Callahan). Gregor's views are opposed to those of Anton's, especially regarding the swimming pool.

While Anton tries to convince his parents to keep the old pool going, Gregor plots to demolish and renovate it, using new technology. The father, who is blind and sickly and depends on an oxygen machine to keep his life going, is inclined to put his trust in Anton, who in his view has been managing the old pool well enough, outdated technology and all.

The conflict peaks with the arrival of Eva (Chulpan Hamatova), who has her own dream. Eva dreams of sailing to an island in the South Seas named Tuvalu. Anton falls in love with Eva but Gregor, manages to win her attention using deceit.

At one point, however, Eva discovers Gregor's true nature as a man who always does things the wrong way, and ultimately leading to the father's death. After his death Gregor comes with a bulldozer to demolish the old swimming pool. Anton, however, manages to save a generator, which he uses to warm water for Eva's boat and steer it towards Tuvalu.

Tuvalu, Veit Helmer's debut feature film, uses a minimum of dialog. It won the FIPRESCI Award at the 1999 Flanders Film Festival and Ghent 1999 as well as the Audience Award at the Melodist 1999. Helmer was born in Hannover in 1989 and studied directing at the Film and Television College in Munich. He assisted Wim Wenders during the filming of The Brothers Skladanowsky (1995) and in various commercials by Wenders. He has since completed three feature films for video.

In Tuvalu, Veit Helmer shows himself as a moviemaker who started his career as a maker of short films. His features almost duplicate his short films in style. There is no narration, it uses a minimum amount of words and the visual aspect is regarded more important than the narrative. As most makers of short films, Helmer relies more on a strong image to reach his audience.

In Tuvalu he presents the audience with a dream, rather than reality, disregarding all the rules of live-action filmmaking, where reality forms the basis for presenting the visual image. The recording of dreams usually only occurs in animated films, but Helmer has proved that the live-action tradition can be used to represent dreams. As a consequence, however, the filmmaker has to work hard getting camera angles right and creating sets or decors that are specifically designed to produce interesting images in every shot.

Short films require that every shot has meaning; the short duration makes it imperative that every shot is effective. Helmer uses the same method in his feature films. This is why Tuvalu is so beautiful, with images that are often suggestive and surrealist and often comical as well. The film must be appreciated as an alternate to the usual live-action movie.