From an unlikely place, here comes a classic story of dogs becoming human’s best friend in Netflix-bound Indonesian family drama, June & Kopi. Unlike Hollywood with dozens of doggo movies (ranging from Air Buds to Marley & Me) or Japan with Hachiko Monogatari (1987), Indonesian cinema has a little to none in terms of pet stories, let alone dogs, in the repertoire at least in the last three decades. Noviandra Santosa‘s new film, co-written with Titien Wattimena (Salawaku, Aruna dan Lidahnya), comes like a breath of fresh air with not only one, but two dogs headlining the film. This doggo-drama comes with a saintly message even when the execution isn’t always at the top level.
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The story revolves around a married couple, Aya (Acha Septriasa) and Ale (Ryan Delon), adopting two dogs separately—June and Kopi. The latter comes first to the family; the former comes unexpectedly after Aya saves her from bullies. Kopi is a more leisurely laid-back dog that Ale loves most between the two; meanwhile, June is a little more hostile in some moments, especially when reliving the past trauma of being bullied by kids. When the couple finds out that they’re expecting a baby, Ale becomes convinced that June might become a dangerous threat for the baby, while Aya believes that the kid and the dogs will get along fine. It’s a setup that never manifests as June immediately becomes attached and protective towards the couple’s newborn, Karin, becoming some sort of a guardian until she grows up to be a lively yet sick little girl (portrayed by Makayla Rose Hilli).
Santosa assembles narrative clichés from similar movie and crafts a light yet heartwarming story that doesn’t feel far away at all. It’s almost like she’s playing overly safe with the materials by incorporating what she does best in this directorial effort. She’s confident in playing with spectacles as she stages a compelling chase scene entirely from the point of views of June. In overall, she directs the fur-balls enticingly, ensuring that they present correct and convincing micro expressions. One factor that makes June & Kopi works is how the doggos blend perfectly into the narrative as they make warm chemistry with the human characters as well. This is a collective work between the director, the cinematographer, and the dog trainers that pays off on screen. The bond between June and Aya, and then Karin, looks real on screen as if they’re bonded in the real life, while in fact, it takes at least two dogs to portray June and Kopi respectively.
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The whole film, however, is imperfect. Lack of proportion seems to be plaguing it in most of the narrative departments. The story focuses more on Aya’s bonding with June that it carelessly neglects Ale, whose one-dimensional portrayal as an unnecessarily vile caregiver is never given a proper redemption, and Kopi, who basically goes MIA for most duration. The pacing also slacks off in the middle part, omitting some details to keep the story forward. And yet, when it comes together in the end, the heartwarming moment prevails even when the smell of pedigree called “melodrama” is strong over the end. June & Kopi ends with a message about adopting instead of buying pets; in doing so, the narrative has reflected the message in a heartfelt fashion.