Max Havelaar (1978/Netherlands)

Max HavelaarUnknown to many Indonesian, I stumble upon this gem. As always I am interested on how foreign filmmakers portray Indonesia. Just like when I saw The Year of Living Dangerously, I expect some new insight. Besides, this one is so rare, not so many people in Indonesia knows about this film.

Sadly this movie is not famous in Indonesia since it is being banned by the New Order regime at the time this movie is being released. Seeing from today’s perspective I don’t understand what is so dangerous (or subversive) from this film. The New Order regime is too paranoid to let a film about a man’s plight for human rights screened in Indonesia. However it finally got screened in the 80s.

Based on the book of the same title, the book itself is very famous in Indonesia and Holland. Written in 1859 by Eduard Douwes Dekker, under the alias ‘Multatuli’, it tells about the suffering of Indonesians under the Dutch rule, and also under the rule of small regents who ‘enjoy’ slaving their own people for their own enjoyment.

Max HavelaarMax (Peter Faber) is an idealist. He landed in Nederlandsch Indie (now Indonesia) and tries to battle corruption by the government there while witnessing on how the people are living in dire situation, especially in Lebak, Banten area (located in the western part of West Java). Not only that, he also finds that the local regent whom the Dutch are cooperating with are also responsible for the maltreatment of the Indonesian. As an idealist, Max fought as hard as he can, facing resistance from the local regent and his fellow countryman.

With running time for almost three hours, it is not boring at all. The acting is great, although for some Indonesian who acted here, their dialogue is too stiff. If you watch it with full concentration you can recognized that Rutger Hauer was in this film, yes, he is the one in the Blade Runner. There is also the amazing Rima Melati, acted as one of the wife of previous Dutch ruler in Lebak, Banten.

In fact the production value is very good. It looks like an expensive production. The filmmaker even use the original Bogor palace for the set. What makes me wonder is, if the New Order regime despise this film so much, why do they let the filmmakers use the state palace at the first place?

The story of Max Havelaar is fictitious, but anyone who read historical books can find parallelism with facts that happened in 19th century Indonesia such as Cultivation System that lead into famine and abuse of power. The book itself is a legend and become a protest to the Dutch government for letting this happened in the colony.

Made by Dutch filmmakers and has some Indonesian language dialogue (also Indonesian actors and actresses) one can identify with the theme of this film; justice and equality. Indonesian who watch this can feel the suffering of Indonesian during the colonization and understood that freedom, in every sense, is something that has to be fought.

Directed by: Fons Rademakers

Starring: Peter Faber, Sacha Bulthuis, Rutger Hauer, Krijn ter Braak, Adendu Soesilaningra, Rima Melati

Running time: 163 minutes

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