The opening of Jalanan recalls The Act of Killing with titles displayed over Indonesian urban landscapes informing us that 7,000 of Jakarta’s 12 million inhabitants work as buskers. This documentary stoops under the poverty line to follow three such buskers over roughly a half-decade. Like The Act of Killing, it’s the work of a foreign director (Canadian Daniel Ziv) but lacks the political or artistic thrust that made that film so memorable, instead content to observe from a distance rather than present an overt argument.
Not that operating in observational mode is a problem. I feel I now have some insight into life in Jakarta, whether it’s from observing a faux-philosophical hippy decrying outspoken anti-corruption protests as hypocritical, a young mother surveying her high school equivalency course textbooks – including ‘Islamic Education’ and ‘Morality and State Ideology’ – or a busker announcing, “I live in a sewage tunnel with my wife, Rita. Life isn’t too bad.” But the film rushes through content too quickly to resonate, dabbling in politics, poverty, education, music and family. Jalanan is an informative experience rather than a transformative one. My main takeaway was to lament the absence of Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence from the BAPFF program.