A boy in Singapore feels awkward and lonely, even at home. But when he sees a young Indonesian woman working as a caretaker for an elderly neighbor, he becomes infatuated with her, watching her closely and dreaming about her at night.
When he witnesses her being harangued by her charge, he decides to reach out to try and help her. But he discovers that the grown-up world, and love, aren't what he assumed.
Written and directed by Michael Kam, this quietly observant short drama has a remarkable grace, full of beautifully composed images and a serene pace that gives a lot of breathing room for the emotions and discoveries of its young protagonist to develop. The result is a delicate, intimate coming-of-age story where the veil between innocence and experience begins to fall.
The writing has very little dialogue, though the sound design weaves in traditional Indonesian music and the ever-present sound of an outside world preoccupied with its concerns. But the storytelling nevertheless portrays a rich interior life, as the young boy navigates the profound loneliness of his life, full of empty silences. We're limited to his point-of-view as viewers, but the small details as he watches the caretaker add up to a compelling fascination.
At first, the boy's infatuation seems like any crush, but the longing at the center of the boy's infatuation indicates something deeper and more palpable. Due to his proximity to his neighbor, he can hear the sounds of the opposite apartment, and he can hear some of the caretaker's travails, though he can't do much about it. He also hears her singing traditional Indonesian lullabies at night, fueling his dreams, which feature a lush, unforgettable vision of the caretaker as a stunning floating goddess or spirit.
Played with subtlety and understatement by young performer Julian Kam, the boy develops a connection to the caregiver, one based on empathy as much as longing and infatuation. When he sees the caretaker berated by her boss, he decides to intercede -- only to realize both the complication of the adult world and the helplessness of being a child.
"Melodi" has a delicacy on all levels, from the thoughtful, poetic craftsmanship to its ability to evoke complicated emotions with a single glance or gesture. But most of all, it portrays the cloistered yet watchful POV of a child while hinting at the churn of a larger world that he's just becoming aware of. Things don't work out the way the boy hopes for and expected with his final efforts. But for a moment, the pair connect and acknowledge one another -- and perhaps that can be enough.