A country of a thousand islands, dormant volcanoes, eternal summer. A picture of an embodied paradise, behind which hides so much tragedy. Indonesians had to turn several dark pages in history, often omitted in textbooks and tourist guides.
We offer a top 5 list of films that will help you delve deeper into the islanders' past. To depict how people lived here in different years, directors often have to address taboo topics in Indonesian society, sparking numerous debates within the country and beyond its borders. The plots of these films are intricate, multifaceted, and ambiguous. Nonetheless, they help shed light on the realities of Indonesia and its inhabitants.
“The year living dangerously”(1982)
Australian dramatic film that remained banned in Indonesia for 18 years. The film is based on Christopher Koch's 1978 novel. Foreign correspondent Guy Hamilton, working in Jakarta during the attempted overthrow of President Sukarno in 1965. The duo of young Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver is complemented by Linda Hunt, whose role earned her an 'Oscar.' The actress's character is truly unique: photographer Billy Kwan, a short-statured Australian-Chinese, presents Indonesia as even more exotic and intriguing than the standard travel show. The film's dialogues subtly reveal the cultural and spiritual world of Indonesians to the audience. Against the backdrop of political turmoil, Billy reminds us of the importance of each person's life and strives to help those who suffer around him.
"The Look of Silence" (2014)
Heart-wrenching documentary film by American director Joshua Oppenheimer, which addresses the theme of the 1965-1966 genocide in Indonesia, when the government mercilessly hunted down supporters of communist ideas. According to various estimates, the mass killings resulted in the death of half a million to a million people.
The film's main character, Adi, attempts to find the killers of his brother, who was dismembered and thrown into the Snake River 50 years ago. Working as an optometrist, Adi doesn't attract too much attention, allowing him to converse with the executioners. The calm yet incredibly profound interviews shock the viewer, especially since the killers continue to live alongside the families and friends of the victims. They nonchalantly recount how they disemboweled people, amputated limbs, castrated, and even drank the blood of their victims. All of this unfolds against the backdrop of stunning landscapes, creating an even greater contrast with the dark side of human nature.
“The East” (2020)
The film is set in 1946 during the Indonesian National Revolution. After the Japanese retreat, the Dutch army attempts to regain influence in the former colony, often displaying unjustified cruelty towards the local population. One of the main characters, Raymond Westerling, is a notable figure in history. Leading a unit to suppress Indonesian resistance, he carried out numerous executions in his missions. However, he never faced punishment for his war crimes.
Director Jim Taihuttu worked on the project for over 10 years, as the subject matter was deeply personal to him. Taihuttu's great-grandfather was a Dutch royal soldier who died during the struggle for Indonesian independence.
The film sparked significant controversy in the Netherlands among military veterans, despite consultations on historical facts being held before filming. The movie was initially prepared as supplementary material for studying the events of those years in Dutch schools.
“The Gold” (2016)
An exhilarating tale of the 'Golden Century Heist' that rocked stock exchanges in Canada and the USA, captivating the entire world. Kenny Wells, heir to a mining company (based on the prototype John Walsh), struggles to keep the business afloat after his father's death. Having lost all his money, he embarks on a true adventure, setting out to find a gold deposit in Indonesia. In the uncharted tropical jungles of Kalimantan, Wells and his partner geologist, Michael Acosta, discover the largest gold mine, leading to serious troubles with influential figures and Indonesian authorities.
For the role of Kenny Wells, actor Matthew McConaughey had to sport baldness and a substantial belly. Interestingly, the Busang River mentioned in the film is indeed real. Dutch missionaries wrote about gold in it as far back as the 16th century.
“Charlie Chaplin in Bali' (2017).
A documentary film about Charlie Chaplin and his brother Sydney's journey to the island of Bali in 1932. The actor, experiencing a midlife crisis, escapes to the East to find inspiration, recharge, and prepare for a new phase of his career - the era of sound cinema. Unfortunately, the film has not yet been translated into Russian. Nevertheless, we included it in the list because you can still find silent film footage shot by Chaplin during the journey, which is available freely.
His recordings transport the viewer back 90 years, providing the opportunity to witness the exoticism of Java and Bali that no longer exists. Caution: the film contains a lot of topless women, as during that time, island women rarely wore upper clothing.