Rubber (1936) Poster


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Life of planters in colonial Dutch India
Emil Bakkum21 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The film Rubber is unique in the sense, that it is probably the only Dutch fictional film made in the colonial Indonesia ("Dutch India"). There are several other Dutch fictional films about our colonial past, but they were all produced after the declaration of independence. Well known examples are the impressive "Max Havelaar"(1975) and the subtle "Van oude mensen, de dingen die voorbij gaan" (1975, TV). All these films were based upon famous novels; to be precise, the authors of these novels were respectively M. Lulofs, Multatuli (=E. Douwes Dekker) and L. Couperus. The colonial life in Dutch India (the wealth, exotic nature, climate) stirred the imagination, whereas the other parts of our colonial empire (f.i. Suriname) got significantly less attention. Dutch India laid the foundation of several Dutch transnational corporations, f.i. Shell and Billiton. In addition it was for three centuries a pillar for our international shipping trade. Many parts of the film Rubber (1936) were recorded in Dutch India itself, and for the first time allowed the excited Dutch public to see live impressions from our Asian province. The story of Rubber is partly autobiographic, sketching the life of a young woman similar to Madelon Lulofs. She had a rather frivolous nature, and married three times (at the time an outrage in the religious Dutch society, but perhaps less so in the colonies). However, the main body of the film concerns the life of the Dutch planters. At the time Dutch India housed already 60 million natives, and only a quarter of a million Dutchmen, with the centres of gravity in the cities. So the planters and their families lived in relative isolation, which was a mental burden for the women, especially if they had migrated from the Netherlands. The daily life can be called typical for any plantation anywhere in the world, although the natives were formally not slaves. The planters were business men in an uncivilized surroundings (and migrants are a strange breed anyhow). The film gives a convincing sketch of their rude and adventurous activities. Typical is the example of the planter, who is forced to prey on his rubber-producing trees, because the economy is temporarily booming. And then there are the luxurious stays in the colonial clubs, the gossiping etc. Of course a part of the Dutch managers were actually short term fortune seekers, hoping to get rich quick. The romance between the married couple, and the subsequent adultery of the wife, seem minor events in the broader picture of the colonial setting (although they may perhaps mirror the loose morals and lifestyle). Finally the couple is reunited, which was a concession to the prudish Dutch public (as said, Lulofs actually left her first two men in ten years time). So this must be how our expats in Baghdad and Kabul spend their days. This is not my thing and thus for me a one-day outing. Nevertheless. it is recommended, if you are curious about the habits of colonial business communities.
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