Teak Leaves At The Temple is, frankly, a pretty weird documentary proposition. A Swiss free jazz trio descend upon Indonesia's Borubudur temple, where they engage in various impro performances with local musicians. Cultural exchange is all well and good, but what was this film really about? Two of the three impro artists never speak on camera. Their leader, Guerino Mazzola, occasionally says some nebulous spiritual stuff direct to camera from atop the temple. What he does say almost sounds cool, but upon closer scrutiny is probably just goobledegook. This chap also strikes me as being as uncomfortably dorky a presence in Indonesia as The Eurhythmics' Dave Stewart was in America when he wandered around looking really pale in that documentary about the blues.
Teak Leaves is filled with sensorily lush content, both in terms of the brilliantly photographed musical performances by all participants, and of authentic Indonesian ethnography for a Western audience, and these qualities make it unavoidably enjoyable from start to finish. But at the same time, conceptually and intellectually, the film just seems to get more and more painful as it progresses.
The number one problem is that the broadest context for the film's existence is never described. Who set this film up? The Swiss musicians? The Indonesians? The director? And when the Swiss guys are there, why do they have the mysterious privilege of never having to speak, or of getting to be the narrators of their own musical journey – using relatively pretentious language to boot – while the locals just sit around saying how cool it is to have Swiss musicians visiting? The ravings of the wonderfully ebullient local guy who carves stone buddhas and hangs out in the river, and also runs around in a superman costume at times just to demonstrate how good he feels, are the charmingest part of the film. When montages of local custom and industry are edited to a backdrop of Swiss free jazz, that's considerably less charming. All in all, the whole thing just seems pretty self-serving for the Swiss.
Another thing that sucks is that when three jazz musos go rabid on their instruments, freestyle, the result always tends to sound the same. But that's the least of your worries in this bizarre, ill thought-out, yet incredibly easy to watch 'documentary'.