Over a decade in the making, Position Among the Stars (2010) is the final instalment of Dutch director Leonard Retel Helmrich’s trilogy of documentaries following the lives of the Sjamsuddin family. Acting as a portal into the lives of just one of many improvised families currently living amongst the fragile shanty towns of Jakarta, Helmrich’s intensely beautiful study of this domestic microcosm of Indonesian life is as socially important as it is enjoyable.
Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country and has the largest Muslim population in the world. Position Among the Stars delves into the social effects of such an overwhelming populous and its steadfast religious beliefs. Helmrich’s closing chapter focuses on Tari, the youngest Sjamsuddin and her family’s struggle to find the finances to get her into college.
Despite being something which is often taken for granted in the western world, education remains an important economic stepping stone in Indonesia, representing not only the intellectual progression of Tari but also her family’s opportunity to leave the overcrowded slums. This domestic drama is also framed by some wonderful real life encounters which only further Helmrich’s investigative approach into many of the damaging concerns regarding Indonesian life including; corruption, religious conflict and gambling addictions.
For those concerned about not having see Helmrich’s previous films (Eye of the Day and Shape of the Moon), not to worry, as the film opens with an informative exposition which briefly covers the two previous film’s themes whilst successfully thrusting you into the movie with a crash course education of the world you’re about to witness.
Position Among the Stars instantly draws you in, relying on an incredibly naturalistic approach to submerge you into the everyday conversations of its characters, amplifying their actions to an almost cinematic scale. There are numerous flashes of visual panache which seamlessly amalgamate with the film’s more restrained moments, making the transition between narrative strands flow elegantly into each other- resulting in a continuously engrossing experience.
After being observed for just over a decade the film’s cast has understandably been criticised for ‘playing to the camera’, however, whilst it may dilute the honesty of their story, there is little doubt it makes for genuinely entertaining viewing, with each member of this delightful family having their own endearing eccentricities that makes them so easy for the audience to fall in love with.
Position Among the Stars is yet another wonderfully insightful film to be released by Dogwoof, who have made a real name for themselves as purveyors of truly groundbreaking documentaries. Helmrich’s film is no exception – a breathtakingly beautiful, yet incredibly natural feeling documentary that successfully exposes the numerous problems in Indonesia whilst also creating a wonderfully enjoyable domestic drama at the same time.