A Captivating Brew of Family, Friendship & Business

Image: Indonesian Film Festival

Image: Indonesian Film Festival

Filosofi Kopi (Philosophy of Coffee), directed by Indonesian filmmaker Angga Dwimas Sasongko, was first screened in Australia on 14 April 2016 as part of the 11th annual Indonesian Film Festival (IFF) at ACMI Melbourne. This captivating and big-hearted film follows the adventures of two early 30-something friends Ben (Chicco Jerikho) and Jody (Rio Dewanto) as they struggle to turn a profit on their first business venture – the stylish and aptly named Filosofi Kopi café which they’ve recently opened in Jakarta’s rapidly gentrifying Melawai district.

With a few hundred million rupiah of debt (tens of thousands of dollars) threatening the future of their venture, Jody and Ben receive the opportunity of a lifetime when a wealthy businessman challenges them to make ‘the perfect cup of coffee’ for his high-stakes upcoming business pitch. As Ben and Jody search for the perfect ingredients to meet this challenge, both characters are forced to confront their chequered pasts.

Having attended three IFFs at ACMI Melbourne and having viewed dozens of contemporary Indonesian films during that time, this opening film of the 2016 Festival was a joy to watch and has only strengthened my favourable view towards Indonesia’s highly professional yet underrated emerging film industry. Set amid the sleek white-tiled and exposed brick walls of the self-titled café, Filosofi Kopi (which is now an actual trading café constructed specifically for this film) would look just at home in Melbourne’s Fitzroy or Sydney’s Newtown neighbourhoods as it does in the grittier streets of Jakarta’s increasingly hip Melawai district. But what begins as a pleasant drama which promises to follow the casual banter between young colleagues and the day-to-day challenges of running a brand new café in a fast-growing market, soon develops into a much more complex and captivating story.

With the café’s owner and ‘business brain’ Jody (Rio Dewanto) discovering an increasing shortfall in revenue which could threaten to bankrupt the entire venture, the scene is set for tension between his pedantic, numbers-focused demeanour and the more free-wheeling, intuitive nature of his best friend and chief barista Ben (Chicco Jerikho), the ‘heart and soul’ of the café, when a cashed-up business mogul chances upon Filosofi Kopi and challenges them to make the perfect brew for an upcoming pitch. The prize on offer from this anonymous mogul of Rp. 1 billion ($100,000) is too good to refuse and would not only wipe out their combined debts but also allow their business to expand. In rising to meet this challenge Ben pressures Jody to buy a more expensive grade of beans at a coffee auction so he can experiment with different flavour combinations and brewing methods until he finds his winning formula – ‘Ben’s Perfecto’.

Word of this tempting new brew soon spreads across Jakarta via social media and traditional press, bringing new customers streaming through the doors and attracting the attention of an esteemed international coffee blogger (Julie Estelle). However, ‘Ben’s Perfecto’ fails to impress El, which compels Jody and Ben to travel to the picturesque Ijen volcano region in East Java in search of the rumoured best coffee beans in Indonesia.

It is here where the true depth and heart of the story is revealed, with their visit to the lush fields of East Java bringing back memories of Ben’s troubled childhood – his parents both worked as coffee farmers at a time when greedy palm oil corporations refused to recognise their land rights and often resorted to violence in kicking these farmers off their rightful land. Ben lost his mother during this turmoil, which uncomfortably harks back to Indonesia’s recent history of authoritarian government under General Suharto. Meanwhile Jody faces his own chequered past with his father – who left him with much of the debt he carries today (above and beyond his bank loan needed to fund Filosofi Kopi).

Ending on an obligatory positive note, with ‘Ben’s Perfecto’ winning the business mogul his long-awaited pitch and the pair their 1 billion Rupiah in prize money, Filosofi Kopi left me feeling quite satisfied as an invested observer of their complex story. Two young men whom despite having troubled pasts had ‘got their act together’, opening their own café and despite almost losing their business in the course of the film, managing to triumph over the problems through a combination of hard work, pure luck and a genuine commitment to their own humanistic ‘philosophy of coffee’.

Like a warm cup of coffee on a cold morning, this film is an optimistic reminder that whatever troubles one has faced in the past, good things can come to those who share the burdens with others and carry on towards their goals. In many ways Filosofi Kopi can be viewed as a parable of Indonesia itself – a nation which despite a tumultuous history continues to march forward with a positive and infectious energy.