Set against the corrupt and violent world of deforestation of Southeast Asia, Mandai River follows three characters whose fates tragically entwine when they are overpowered by chaos and mystical forces of nature beyond their control. Consultant Matthew Calloway is tasked to obtain a large palm oil concession while he suffers from the tropical heat and his self-destructive tendencies. Plagued by hallucinations he loses control and increasingly depends on his enigmatic fixer Mary. A young prostitute Pearl avenges the death of her unborn child and as she desperately tries to escape from her bleak existence, she steals Matthew’s bribe money. Her estranged father, Laskar, loses his savings in a cockfight that he hoped would level his debts. While his village accepts an offer made by a palm oil company, Laskar plans a rebellion that is destined to fail and the involuntary killing his oldest son. His village is eradicated, and the last thing Laskar feels is the violent trembling of the earth.
Mandai River is about our relation with nature, and therefore about our relation with ourselves. A topic that is incredibly current as the Covid pandemic reminds us again that our destructive attitude is like cutting our own umbilical cord. The characters are confronted with their lack of relevance within the uncontrollable forces that surround them. Next to the hardened world of corruption and destruction, the setting follows the idea of a forest as one colossal sentient presence that rooted in Indonesian mysticism connects the characters with the awareness that nature will claim its rights. Nature prevails and outlives us all, yet we are one with it. And this connection is perhaps the most meaningful relationship in our existence, the metaphysical entanglement with nature.