A little boy, estimated to be ten at most, puts down a tiger with one well-aimed shot. A meaty elderly man is extremely proud at that exploit. His grandson, you assume. His illegitimate son, it soon becomes clear. We are in the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia) at the beginning of the 20th century. The old man, Jan, is the owner of a sugar cane plantation and the associated factory. His little boy is called Karel and has the Indian housekeeper as his mother. Within the colonial community, Karel's ancestry is no secret and Jan's wife Agathe has no problems with it either. At least, so it seems, because revenge is a dish best served cold.
When Jan exchanges the temporary for the eternal, Agathe stands idly by. She can only manage a barely noticeable smirk. She asks her son Cornelius and his heavily pregnant wife Josefien to travel to the colony from the Netherlands, but the couple wants to sell everything and take Agathe with them. The old woman herself holds a different opinion: Cornelius should take over the plantation and the factory. A factory that Agathe has never set foot in, as that is a place for men. Of course, there is also little Karel, unwittingly and unknowingly the spider in the web.
Sweet Dreams is the second, strongly convincing film by Ena Sendijarević, a Bosnian who ended up in the Netherlands when she was 15. She resolutely opts for an anti-realism, both in her deliberately detached mise-en-scène and in the actors' acting, led by a brilliant Renée Soutendijk as the delightfully sneaky but no less sympathetic Agathe. The artificiality is laid on so thickly that it becomes funny, similar in idea to The Favourite. The family symbolises the imploding Dutch colonialism (though it would take until after World War II for Indonesia to gain its independence), yet this is much more than an anti-colonialist manifesto. It is also and above all a portrait of vile small-mindedness, with everyone - from dignitary to worker - thinking first and foremost of themselves. In that sense, Sweet Dreams is perhaps a very realistic film. But really only in that sense.
Renée Soutendijk, Lisa Zweerman, Hans Dagelet
Erik Glijnis, Leontine Petit
Gusto Entertainment, O'Brother Distribution
Indonesia, The Netherlands, France, Sweden