Review: ‘Eye of the Day’

"Eye of the Day" evokes the sights, sounds and rhythms of Java and its denizens. Film, shot when Indonesia underwent intense upheaval, follows people as they go about their daily rounds. Docu's painterly quality and the byplay between the people and their poverty make "Eye" a natural for fests, arthouses and indie cable outlets.

In the lyrical tradition of Robert Flaherty’s “Man of Aran,” “Eye of the Day” evokes the sights, sounds and rhythms of an island, in this case Java, and its denizens. Film, shot over a three-year period (1998-2001) when Indonesia underwent intense political and economic upheaval, follows a handful of people in verite as they go about their daily rounds. Docu’s manifest painterly quality — a lot of work goes on against gorgeous sunrises and sunsets — and the byplay between the naturalness and warmth of the people and the exoticism of their poverty make “Eye” a natural for fests, arthouses and indie cable outlets, but not necessarily for the usual docu auds.

Director Leonard Retel Helmrich is big on associative imagery. In a long shot, a man walks through a pastoral landscape: The camera moves in on the cross atop the roof of a dinky Christian church, gradually revealing the dome of a majestic Mosque that rises in perspective to loom above it. If we didn’t get the idea about the relative importance of the two religions, a motley group of Christian matrons led by a bespectacled minister with a red microphone is countered with vast symmetrical rows of identically white-garbed Muslim women bowing in unison.

If Retel Helmrich’s pictorialism often feels forced, the camaraderie and affection he captures transcends the framing conceit. A husband and wife lean down companionably to light each other’s basket lamps so they can sift through a garbage dump at night, that same dump being home to two affectionate cats, rubbing heads and purring madly, one apparently unfazed by the fact that the other is grotesquely deformed.

All sound is “source”; we’re treated to musical interludes only when they’re at hand, be they supplied by a crippled string instrumentalist weaving in and out of cars or a student singing a tuneful political protest song to a train of appreciative passengers.

Pic’s most memorable scenes revolve around the country’s newly reinstituted democratic elections (after 32 years of Suharto’s iron rule): The enthusiastic color-coded political party rallies (a losing candidate’s portrait promptly pressed into service as a gaudy multileveled pigeon coop); the noisy, friendly communal open-air voting place, where a woman peeks out of the sheet-covered booth to sheepishly ask to borrow a pair of glasses; the vote count with its oddly familiar dispute over whether an unclear ballot pinprick should be counted.

Tech credits are pristine, the camera as perfectly in focus when jostled in a handheld free-for-all as when framing copulating insects on a blade of grass.

Eye of the Day



A Scarabee Films production. Produced by Hetty Naaijkens-Retel Helmrich. Directed by Leonard Retel Helmrich. Script, Retel Helmrich, Hetty Naaijkens-Retel Helmrich;


camera, (color)Retel Helmrich; editors, Robert Broekhof, Denise Janzee; production supervisor, Ronny F. Poluan; production coordinators, Dolorosa Sinaga, Arjuna Hutagalung, Alexander Supartono; sound, Hugo Dijkstal, Marcel Huibers. Reviewed at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, New York, June 18, 2002 (Also in Documentary Filmfestival, Amsterdam, and Rotterdam Film Festival.) Running time: 94 MIN.


With Rumidja, Barkti, Dwi, Ibu Sum and Tani.
Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0

Leave a Reply

No Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More Film News from Variety