(Indonesian dialogue — Sumba dialect)
Aslyly offbeat blend of docu and village drama, filtered through an over-literal Indonesian boy’s eyes, “A Letter for an Angel” marks a bold sophomore effort by 32-year-old director Garin Nugroho that could interest specialized webs. Tightening by about 20 minutes wouldn’t hurt either.
The boy is Lewa, 9, an antsy tyke prone to wild temper tantrums, whose mother died when he was very young. He has a warm relationship with Berlian Merah, an attractive young woman in the same village whose brother, Malaria Tua, is his best friend.
A loner and a dreamer, the kid writes letters to an angel he believes takes care of the land, and is mystified why he never gets any replies. He spends his time cutting classes and playing on the beach with the crazed Malaria Tua.
One day a group of city types, in town for a fashion shoot, lend Lewa a Polaroid camera, and the kid becomes obsessed with recording everything through its lens. His curiosity triggers a bloody feud between neighboring villages.
The movie doesn’t stint on ambition. Nugroho’s cutting style is consciously jagged, with sequences often begun sans intros, inserted chunks of real-life village rituals (complete with explanatory captions) and weird, semi-mystical scenes of considerable magic.
Just when it seems “Letter” may settle down into a rural kiddie pic, Nugroho either switches styles or shocks the viewer with unexpected violence. (Pic contains much graphic footage of animals being slaughtered in ceremonies.)
Thanks to natural playing by a largely non-pro cast, the formula works most of the time. Apart from the three adult leads (all fine), other thesps are from Sumba, an island east of Bali chosen by Nugroho for its broad mix of cultures and traditions. Some 90% of the dialogue is in local dialect rather than standard Indonesian.
Tech credits are OK, given the small ($ 235,000) budget, which allowed only 30 days’ shooting. Color on print caught had a bright, somewhat washed-out look. Pic has yet to open commercially in Indonesia.