An idealistic Dutch colonial officer posted to Indonesia in the 19th century is cohvinced that he can make the kinds of changes that will actually help the local people he is in charge of, ... See full summary »
An idealistic Dutch colonial officer posted to Indonesia in the 19th century is cohvinced that he can make the kinds of changes that will actually help the local people he is in charge of, but circumstances soon make him realize just how out of touch he really is, and it doesn't take long for things to go from bad to worse. Written by
Max Havelaar is more than just a film about the Dutch presence in Indonesia halfway the nineteenth century. The Story is based on a book with the same name, written by Multatuli (alias of Eduard Douwes Dekker). His book has an autobiographic background, due to Multatulis service as a Dutch government official in Indonesia. It belongs to the greatest works of the Dutch literature, and since it has also found recognition abroad, the book may be considered as part of our world heritage. Multatuli has produced various other works, and was and remains valued in the Netherlands for his sharp pen and radical (modern) ideas. Although he was neither a politician nor a socialist, his profound influence on all progressive Dutch movements lived on long after his decease. I first read the book, and shortly afterwards in 1976 saw the film. At the time, not yet being a true cinema addict I found some scenes a bit too dramatic. A couple of years ago I bought the DVD. Of course a prominent book does not by itself guarantee a quality film. However, Fons Rademakers is an experienced director, Rutger Hauer is a well-known actor, and Peter faber and Sacha Bulthuis have proved their merits. The film is recorded mainly on location on the island Java (Indonesia), and includes beautiful shots of the countryside and village life, and of colonial buildings. The subject of the narrative is the exploitation of the people by the local rulers, in collaboration with the Dutch officials and traders. At That time (1855) colonialism still relied heavily on the locals in power (called regents) with their own militia. It was only later, at the turn of the century, that the colonial areas were reduced to real Dutch provinces. Havelaar becomes assistant-resident of Lebak in Java (third in command after the governor-general and the regional resident). He soon discovers that the regent brutally exploits his people. They have to do excessive statute labor, and their cattle is pinched by means of heavy taxation. Havelaar protests against the practices, and pressures the regent for a change of politics. This results in an attempt on his life, and in addition rumors go that his predecessor was poisoned. Now Havelaar wants to imprison the regent and his militia. Unfortunately, the regent is in league with the resident, which puts Havelaar into an administratively explosive position. He tries to bypass the resident, and appeals to the governor. Bell-ringers have never been liked, and certainly not in the administrative hierarchy. Therefore Havelaar is dishonorably transferred, which drives him to tendering his resignation. Of course the tale remains of interest in our days. It is noteworthy that the theme is actually nation building, and one is tempted to make comparisons with Afghanistan. In the background the developments depict an early phase of globalization. The main significance for the Netherlands of then Indonesia was not the administrative rule (this became necessary to discourage European competitors), but the profitable investments in plantations, mining activities, transport etc. The film only hints at this aspect of colonialism (among others it gives an excellent ridicule of a coffee trader, and the subtitle of the book is even "The coffee auctions of the Dutch Trading Company").
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