'Streetside' ('Jalanan'): Reykjavik Review

Jalanan Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Reykjavik International Film Festival

Jalanan Still - H 2014

A likeable but undistinguished introduction to three Jakarta buskers

Where $1.50 isn't a bad day's pay

Claiming that seven thousand Jakarta residents support themselves by performing on the streets, Daniel Ziv gets to know three of them in Streetside, introducing characters whose personalities and coping strategies for poverty-level existence vary quite a bit. The two men and one woman are likeable, and their stories hold some small surprises. But their appeal is probably not enough to carry this doc (Ziv's first) far beyond Indonesian theaters, where it opened in April, and scattered fests. (It won the best doc prize at Busan.)

Perhaps the most surprising thing here is that when the first singer we meet, Boni, tells us "I live in a sewage tunnel," he's actually describing something almost cozy. He and his wife Rita have called the same spot home for ten years, have tapped into a broken water main for a constant supply of clean water (more reliable, he says, than that of nearby houses and hotels), and find the constant hum of cars overhead a pleasant backdrop for daily life. Then again, the spot is subject to flash floods, in which case "sewage tunnel" means what it sounds like.

The dreadlocked busker who calls himself Ho is far less domestic-minded, professing cynical attitudes on everything from love to political corruption. We get thrown in jail with him on one occasion (the city's "beautification" campaign involves sweeping musicians off the streets) where his cellmates include a rickshaw driver who has no idea why he was arrested but has spent days in jail with his elementary school-aged daughter. (We're left to wonder how the filmmaker talked his way into this Dickensian place, and whether getting out was as easy.)

Titi is not homeless, but busks to earn money for her husband's cigarette habit and to send to family members in a far-off village. Pretty and cheerful, she's a tough one to figure out: We eventually learn that she has three children in three different cities, only one of whom she's caring for.

All three wind up on some sort of personal-growth mission, luckily for Ziv, and the film chronicles these in conventional fashion. What we don't really get is an understanding of the film's evident belief that the three possess unusual musical talent. Spend a day out on any major city's streets and transit systems, and you'll encounter performers with as much or more to offer. Streetside reminds us to be curious about what they do when they're not hustling for our pocket change.

Production company: DesaKota Productions

Director-Director of photography: Daniel Ziv

Screenwriters-Producers: Ernest Hariyanto, Daniel Ziv

Editor: Ernest Hariyanto


No rating, 101 minutes