The Netherlands, Sweden, Indonesia


A patriarch’s death and the ensuing power struggles add to the troubles of a sugar factory in the last years of the Dutch colonial era in Indonesia.

A sharp-eyed satire set on a sugar plantation on an Indonesian island in the final years of the Dutch colonial era, Ena Sendijarević’s second feature is a potent reminder that European colonialism did not come to a tidy ending in the innumerable countries it affected (to say nothing of the neocolonialism still impacting much of the globe). Instead, Sweet Dreams provides compelling evidence of the mess these wider historical forces make in the lives of the characters within the volatile microcosm the director portrays so vividly.

For the family and business led by the imperious patriarch Jan (Hans Dagelet), the rot had clearly set in long before these events. That said, Jan isn’t around to see the changes to come, what with his sudden death after one of his nightly visits to the room of Siti (Hayati Azis), his Indonesian housekeeper. With the disorder in the household further compounded by a workers’ protest, his widow Agathe (Renée Soutendijk) demands the return from Europe of Jan’s pompous son Cornelius (Florian Myjer) and heavily pregnant daughter-in-law Josefin (Lisa Zweerman). When they all learn of Jan’s decision to bequeath his estate to his son with Siti, the ensuing power struggles add a further degree of turbulence.

Director's Statement

SWEET DREAMS is set in a fictional microcosm, a place that resembles a remote sugar plantation in the Dutch East Indies around 1900. The Dutch colonists are in power in this cosmos, but power is shifting. After the sudden death of the patriarch and sugar factory owner, a game of cat and mouse begins, where everyone’s position in the pecking order is at stake.

The story of the film can be called a horrific fairy tale. While I never made the atrocities in the story bigger than the atrocities I encountered while researching the situation then and there, I did choose to approach these atrocities through an absurdist and alienating lens. SWEET DREAMS is a film that emphasizes the banality of evil. It is not a conventional period film, but a stylized satire, one that presents reality as a magical, at times surrealist fiction. In this way I wanted to build a bridge to the present, to make a mirror in which we can recognize our current world.

This is a film in which an ensemble of characters is central, who all have an archetypal function in the story. With SWEET DREAMS I wanted to focus not only on the victims of colonialism, but on all different positions in this system. And thereby not falling into the trap of a victimizing gaze or too simplistic good guy- bad guy oppositions. It was precisely to illuminate the complexity of colonial dynamics that were the goals during the making of this film.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Ena Sendijarevic

Written by: Ena Sendijarevic

Produced by: Erik Glijnis, Leontine Petit, Erik Hemmendorff, Kristina Börjeson, Martien Vlietman, Mandy Marahimin

Cinematography: Emo Weemhoff

Editing: Lot Rossmark

Production Design: Myrte Beltman

Costume Design: Bernadette Corstens

Make-Up & Hair: Evalotte Oosterop

Original Score: Martial Foe

Sound: Vincent Sinceretti

Visual Effects: Ludwig Källén, Peter Toggeth Karlsson, Timo Aaldriks, Anders Nyman

Casting: Rebecca Van Unen

Cast: Renée Soutendijk (Agathe), Hayati Azis (Siti)

Nominations and Awards

  • Feature Film Selection 2023