It takes a lot of sincerity to treat a subject as commonplace and low-stakes as coffee-making as a source of straight-faced, emotionally loaded drama. It takes some skill and insight... more to do this without completely embarrassing yourself. Filosofi Kopi, the heartfelt film from Indonesian director Angga Dwimas Sasongko, pulls it all off because it convincingly ties the art of making a good coffee to the passion behind the craft and the wider historical context of the centuries old drink. There’s genuine meat backing up the film’s ostensibly twee premise as Filosofi Kopi finds the emotion and the heritage behind the classy veneer of coffee shop trendiness.
This thoughtfulness is suggested in the opening credits montage, which, in a few quick clips, establishes the film’s eponymous café as a centre of intersecting elements of society, from the farmers growing the beans to the customers waiting in the queue. The financially struggling Filosofi Kopi is run by childhood friends Ben and Jody. Ben is a talented but naïve barista who clearly has something to prove, acting bitter or jealous around anyone who may surpass his expertise in coffee. Jody is a more cautious, rational counterpoint who tends to keep an eye on the economic side of things and tries to rein in Ben’s impulsiveness and ego when necessary. So naturally he isn’t too pleased when a scarily confident Ben makes a big money wager with a wealthy businessman that he can make the best house blend in Jakarta. It’s a challenge that will make or break their business and the start of a journey that brings them in contact with a travelling writer, a master coffee farmer and Ben’s own tumultuous past.
The film runs into a little trouble during its midpoint transition to weightier territory, sometimes feeling tonally off-balance and, to be more specific, uncharacteristically melodramatic in some of its flashback sequences. But these are just occasional bumps in the road for a film that largely proves effective at incorporating rocky personal histories and past tragedies into its character-driven story, especially whenever it’s ultimately in service of earnest optimism. Much like the highly emotional Ben needs someone to bring him back down to earth every now and then, the film often employs a dry sense of humour to save the drama from excessive sombreness. Besides, the richness of Robie Taswin’s cinematography alone will be enough to get many viewers taking the story more seriously than they ever thought they could.
Ultimately, much of the film’s success stems from the evident reality that the people behind this picture simply love and understand coffee. Filosofi Kopi respects the traditions behind the product and recognises the transporting effects of taste – how a well-crafted drink can bring someone into a whole new frame of mind. The film is so reverent of the ardour and obsession that can go into making the perfect product that it becomes as much a celebration of art as it is one of good coffee-making. You may not give as much thought as Filosofi Kopi does to how you get your daily caffeine intake but the film can still hit an emotional nerve for anyone who knows what it’s like to take pride in what they do.
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