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The East 2021 Movie Review Poster Trailer Online
Director: Jim Taihuttu
Writers: Mustafa Duygulu, Jim Taihuttu
Stars: Martijn Lakemeier, Marwan Kenzari, Jonas Smulders
I’ve always wondered what happened to the colonization of our country, which is said to have lasted for 350 years, in the eyes of the ‘perpetrators’ aka the Dutch themselves now. Of course, for the Dutch, this event became a dark historical record as well. The film The East (originally titled De Oost) was dogged by controversy, just as when someone tried to tell stories about the PKI or other dark history here. But it soon subsided because indeed The East came with a noble purpose. This film does not appear as a wound picker who then tries to heal it with various defenses. Rather it comes almost like an apology. And as shown by the choice of the protagonist at the end, this film is actually an outlet for a prolonged guilt,
The story that is presented takes the point of view of a fictional character named Johan de Vries (played by Martijn Lakemeier with the challenge of a fairly wide range of emotions by the development). This character will later navigate various events that are actually recorded in history books, meeting real characters. Johan became a volunteer soldier who was sent to a camp in Semarang. The condition of the Dutch colony was indeed unstable after the conflict with Japan. There was a revolt from the local population who were ready to proclaim independence. Johan’s mission is to protect the Dutch property by pretending to be a protector for the residents. But what Johan saw and felt there made his conscience conflict with the task he was given. Especially when Johan was chosen as one of Raymond Westerling’s confidants (Marwan Kenzari looks charismatic, as well as shrinks) , the commander who was hailed as Ratu Adil.
Director Jim Taihuttu is indeed the right person to bring this tragedy into a story with a balanced perspective. Because not only is he a Dutch national, he also has Moluccan blood. So he treads between the two camps. This makes The East movie itself so it has weightor weights. I know I’ve written about this many times – maybe even in every war movie review; That war stories are never black and white. There is always a dilemma. There is always great moral conflict. Imagine someone who wants to admit guilt, but does so half-heartedly because he tries too much to defend himself, showing moral indecision and the risks and imperatives he is forced to take. The East movie never looks like a man trying to defend himself. And that’s what makes this film comfortable to watch. Especially for us, the descendants of the colonized in the story.
The film never appears to justify the actions of the Dutch, it never appears with the attitude of a savior . He presents what is. Colonialism, after all, is inhumane. We can’t be heroes by colonizing people in their own country. This balance is achieved thanks to the layers that the story gives to the other party. This film also does not hesitate to show Indonesia as a terrorist group, at least several groups that are against it. The picture of the chaotic political situation that divides the brotherhood itself is shown by the film as one of the plot drivers.
Inevitably, Johan’s character was designed as a representative of the Dutch soldiers, maybe even millions of Dutch people who feel guilty. The plot or journey of these characters describes all the awareness processes they may experience. We see Johan at first as young people who can’t wait to do something for their country. Johan, making friends with friends in the camp, is proud to be a soldier. Their interactions may be cliché, as is always the case in war films, but the context of the story makes us understand it. Because for several months there was no war. So they don’t ‘tell life and death stories’ like they used to. There are questions that haunt their minds, especially Johan about what they actually did there. That question then developed into a developmental for Johan’s character. Steps from someone proud to feeling the need to be there to feeling obligated to be a savior to rapidly changing guilt (insense of storytelling) the character’s mood becomes depressed and dark; this is what the storytelling is all about, and the film manages to do it right and touchingly. Mainly because it was balanced earlier.
Conscience filled with guilt needs to make a confession. Albert Camus said that confession can be done in the form of art. This film is one such art form. Because this film manages to depict Johan’s confession of guilt in a dark way.
Cameras did not escape recording, showing exactly what it was like to be in a conflict-prone area. We see Johan being treated to a coconut by a small child, and a few minutes later the film shows us the terrifying image of a human head stuck to a stake. Such sharp attention to dramatic and historical detail makes this film feel truly embracing. Supports us in the story of humanity, so we cannot turn away from the horror that comes when humanity is in conflict.
To make it feel more authentic, the film was actually shot in Indonesia. Using the Indonesian language and (struggling with) the Indonesian dialect. Several Indonesian actors such as Lukman Sardi, Yayu Unru, Putri Ayudya also contributed role plays. You can have a little fun looking forward to their performance. The collaboration between the Dutch and Indonesian studios to realize this film indirectly certainly adds weight to what is to be conveyed in the story. How being able to recognize friendship in war may be what is needed to stop the war.
With a detailed story and layered characters, what this film has to think about then, of course, is how to tell it. Unfortunately , this film chooses to use flashback. So actuallythe period of the story is divided into two parts, Johan is still a soldier in Semarang (shown in more natural colors) with Johan who has returned to his country – burdened by the guilt he received as a souvenir (shown in monochrome, whether it’s blue or blue). or ash). These two periods are spread alternately throughout the duration of the film. It is this shift between the two periods that often leaves us out of the grip of the story. The film doesn’t manage to find, or perhaps more accurately design, the moment of displacement that really harmonizes. Johan’s period of depression is actually important because it discusses another layer of his character, namely his relationship with his ex-Nazi father. This relationship is the key that shapes Johan’s point of view that most of us see.
But by showing it moving, the film loses the rhythm of the story. The weight to his father didn’t feel as strong as it was intended. Not to mention, because Johan’s scenes in Semarang are definitely more interesting than when he returned to Holland. So naturally, those of us who watch will be more concerned with scenes in conflict areas, wanting to get back to the story quickly. The film loses its balance in terms of storytelling. Even the targeted dramatic level failed to be achieved. Especially because in the third act, when the setting moved to Makassar when Johan had become a Westerling squad, the story seemed to jump and there was a lack of development. Characters that change suddenly, no longer flash-out slowly like in the beginning.
The film should be told in a linear way. Starting from being sent to Semarang, in the camp, continuing as a Westerling troop, and returning to the Netherlands for completion. The risk is only to make the film feel like it is divided into two episodes. But at least the desired emotion will be spread out more coherently. I mean , Full Metal Jacket (1987) just made Kubrick linearly, taking the risk; the movie feels like a training episode and a battlefield episode. But we cannot be separated from the development and the emotion and weight of the story. The East has the potential, at the very least, to be like a disturbing soldier’s saga . The formula and ingredients are correct. It’s just the print that needs to be fixed.
Not hiding behind fiction, this film dares to appear discussing a point of view that many people don’t want to explore. About the Dutch in the colonial era of Indonesia. About the colonizing party. And this film presents it with a draw. There is no agenda for glorification or self-defense. This film purely shows the human side experienced by the parties involved. As a war film, however, it follows the formula well. We can say cliche, but still unique thanks to the point of view. It is in the story that this film is ‘hit’. The flashback plot used actually hinders us from following and doesn’t help much for the film itself. But what needs to be emphasized a little more is, the courage of this film to raise issues. So maybe this moviebreak something new in Dutch cinema; maybe the comparison is like if there were filmmakers here who dared to make a film about the PKI.