Short Film Review: Mars (Don’t Pee Randomly!)
This short science fiction comedy from Indonesia is cute and charming and just as weird as the title implies.
I was googling “new short films” when I stumbled across a content aggregator named Viddsee. The site is a treasure trove of student shorts and independent short films from Asia, and I didn’t even have to scroll down one page to find a short film I had to review: Mars (Don’t Pee Randomly!) This little gem from Indonesia is filled with wonder and silliness and practically leapt off the site’s front page at me (as well as several short horror films, but that’s for another review!) The age old question of how you pee in space is answered once and for all by an intrepid grade school kid who loves science: you don’t, at least if you don’t want to get kidnapped by a Martian in cargo pants.
Mars (Don’t Pee Randomly!) 
Ipul is a young science enthusiast who gets to show off his knowledge of space when his class goes on a field trip to Mars. The only problem is that Ipul suffers from a weak bladder, meaning he has to pee frequently. It turns out the inhabitants of Mars aren’t too fond of grade school kids from Earth taking a potty break on the red planet.
The Life Aeronautic.
Mars (Don’t Pee Randomly!) has many of the idiosyncrasies of a Wes Anderson film, but is much more lighthearted. Like Anderson, director Muhammad Marhawi has an eye for detail, creating lots of lovely panoramic shots, and a cunning talent for inserting absurd little details that turn a mundane shot into a whimsical scene. My favorite is when the school bus takes the off-ramp for Mars, which is just a normal interstate turn off but complete with signs pointing to Mars, Venus, Jupiter…and the next town over.
There are lots of tiny little science fiction nods sprinkled all over the place, like robots who do people’s shopping and Google Glass-esque transmitters students can use to call their parents, but they exist as just plain facts on the periphery. Marhawi creates a world that is very much like our modern one, just with fantastical advances in science that are routine for these kids. Ipul and his friends don’t even bat an eye when they find a street vendor in a space suit on Mars selling snacks and playing Indonesian pop music!
Charm and Wonder.
The light tone in this film is endlessly engaging. This is very much a day in the life of some grade school kids who just happen to be going to Mars on a pretty ordinary looking tour bus. The kids are bright and optimistic, and they have earnest interactions with their teachers and each other. The young actors who play Ipul and his classmate Sophia aren’t going to challenge Jacob Tremblay for an Oscar nomination, but they’re perfect in the setting Marhawi creates. I found myself constantly smiling at their antics (and wishing that half of my students were as energetic and excited about science in class!)
WTF: What the Fantastic!
I was instantly taken with Mars (Don’t Pee Randomly!) It is well shot, has a good eye for locations, and is suffused with a sense of wonder and fun. The world of Ipul and Sophia reminds me of the old cartoon shorts from Warner Brothers called “The Home of Tomorrow!” You’d see fantastic devices and wondrous technology…which would eventually be used for something mundane like burping the baby or fetching the newspaper. It had the same sense of “this could be us!” and “we’d probably use our amazing tech for silly stuff anyway!” that you find in this film.
Instead of magical realism, we get a sort of science fictional realism in Mars (Don’t Pee Randomly!) that is refreshing after so much dystopian sci-fi lately. The ending doesn’t quite live up to the premise, but there is so much that is silly and inventive and optimistic in the brief 22 minute run-time that I would recommend this film to anyone. Just use the bathroom before take-off!