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In my opinion, this is one of the most powerful, beautiful and
magnificent movies ever made, on every possible level: the way the
story has been adapted from the book, to its incredible cinematography,
character depiction, and the sensitive awareness of the complexities in
the situation it describes, i.e., the finally brutal Dutch colonizing
The contrasts between the beauty of the islands and its people with the horror of the disastrous situations brought on by the Dutch, are enormously moving and emotionally wrenching. Be careful about seeing it: it may change your life, as the book it was based on started to change Holland's awareness of the price, to themselves and the people of the islands, of its exploitation of these defenseless peoples. Never seen anything better, really.
This film works. It gives a realistic, grim depiction of life in a European colony, namely Indonesia. The description of web of hypocrisy of church-going Dutch and the utmost repression the natives under their rule endure. People who derive benefits from others misery and use powerful denial mechanisms to evade from the truth. Max Havelaar was a man, the film makers and writers seem to love - a beacon of hope. One stand up guy who resists succumbing to the mire of human power struggles and utmost cruelty towards other people, in a situation where he has the position to wield unquestionable power. In this he reminds of Josef Schindler who also found some humanity in a dire, cruel situation. This film also matches John Sayles' "Men With Guns" in portraying human cruelty.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Max Havelaar is an idealistic yet naive Dutch colonial official in 19th
century Indonesia who truly believes that he is going to civilize and
improve the lives of the people under his administration.
Unfortunately, he isn't really plugged into the local culture. Those
directly oppressing the people are not so much the Dutch colonial
officials as the venal and corrupt native rulers. At first, he is led
to believe that his reformist ideas have the sanction of his superiors,
but he runs into a stone wall and eventual abandonment and dismissal
when he begins to threaten the vested interests of both the
colonialists and the local sultan, who he eventually realizes are in
cahoots with each other. His actions bring about a rebellion, for which
he is blamed; resulting in even worse repression, and causing the
breakup of his family and ostracism from his own society.
In most film and literature, defeated good guys at least get a pat on the back or some positive reinforcement from those they tried to help. Not so here. He ends up as an outcast reviled by both the oppressors he hoped to oust and the people he tried to liberate.
The film is a bit slow moving, disjointed, and overly long. I didn't really like it right after I saw it (over 20 years ago) but it grew on me quite a bit upon reflection. Definitely not for those already in a depressed state of mind or with suicidal ideation. It's stark message is that those willing to fight for unpopular causes had better be ready for more than death or disappointment and undertake their struggles as their own reward to their souls, since those you seek to help can turn on you as surely as your enemies.
I saw this film once, thirty years ago, when it first came out. It was regarded as avantgarde at the time, and was shown in a small "alternative" movie theaters in Aarhus, Denmark. I have never forgotten the power of this film, and can remember it in amazing detail, in particular the ending. No, it's not a happy film, full of complete heroes who win the day. It is like the world today, and is as relevant now as it was then. I can remember that it was one of the rare films that did not have a musical score. The sound was what actually took place; the sound of machinery,walking, the weather, music played in the film. It is sad that this seems to have become a forgotten film. I don't know one other person who has seen this film. It is unknown and unavailable in all the local movie rental places. Not even Netflex had a copy. I would love to see this film again, and if anyone knows how to get a copy I hope they post that info here. Brian
in making this film, rademaker opened up old dutch colonial wounds, dormant except for the novel, helped promote a good NGO cause, & exposed native corruption that continues into present indonesia. the max havelaar foundation was ahead of its time in promoting fair trade & continues to take a leadership role today. in the film, havelaar represents the idealist side of both dutch colonial rule & protestant ethos in the face of corruption & hypocrisy toward that global enterprise. aside from a brilliant film, powerful scenery & location, excellent acting, rademaker wove the narration close to the well-known novel. appropriate for its time,this film fits well with European self-examination of its colonial past, resonates with pontecorvo's burn/queimada, a masteropiece of duplicity & brando at his prime!
"Max Havelaar" is a 19th century novel about the Dutch colonial rule in
Indonesia - specifically, about one man's fight against the oppressive,
bureaucratic and inhuman nature of the Dutch/Indonesian rule in the
poor province of Lebak. The novel is (rightfully) considered one of
Holland's most enduring and powerful works of literature; Fons
Rademaker's 1976 cinema adaptation, however, has been largely
This is a shame. While the script is ponderous and the pacing definitely not for the impatient, it is a haunting movie thanks to its big star: beautiful Indonesia itself, one of the most lush, mysterious places on earth. Beautifully photographed by Jan "Speed" de Bont, you can practically feel the tropical heat emerge from your screen... And to see the fair-skinned Dutch try to make sense of this environment makes you wonder how they built this empire in the first place. The recreation of the 19th century is also very well done - you can tell the budget must have been unusually high for a Dutch film of this period.
In any case, my advice is to sit through it, maybe in 3 sessions. I'd recommend "Max Havelaar" in particular for anyone interested in Indonesian history and culture.
I was able to rent the DVD of this film from a place in Portland,
Oregon. They had a copy of the original and seemed to believe the film
had been placed in the public domain, available to be copied. You might
want to check on that yourself. If that is true, it could be that you
would be able to purchase a copy yourself. I'm not sure how the law of
public domain applies to films created the 1980's since I would imagine
the copyright would have been renewed somehow by 2008. Does anyone else
have information regarding this?
I had not heard of this film before visiting this rental place but was looking for the films of Verhoeven when I stumbled on this one directed by Fons Rademakers. It seemed especially apropos since both my parents were Dutch-Indonesian and their parents were part of the latter days of Dutch colonial culture. It wasn't until Indonesian independence that my grandparents were persuaded to leave that beautiful land for the rainy gloomy weather of the Netherlands. After 25 years in the humid summers and bitter winters of Detroit, I ended up in Portland, where the weather is much more like Holland. Go figure!
An idealistic Dutch colonial officer posted to Indonesia in the 19th
century is convinced that he can make the kinds of changes that will
actually help the local people he is in charge of, but soon runs into
massive corruption on both sides.
MAX HAVELAAR, AN OLD DUTCH MASTERPIECE. VIewed at the Seattle Film Festival, June, 2007 .
Fons Rademaker's Dutch masterpiece "Max Havelaar" (The Netherlands, 1976, RT 170 minutes). Fons Rademaker was perhaps the greatest Dutch director and, based on this towering epic, clearly one of the greatest of all European directors. He died only a few month's ago (in 2007) and "Max Havelaar" is the Seattle film festival's fitting tribute to his memory. Rademakers "Havelaar" is a magnificent sweeping epic, based on a novel of the same name, telling a tale of Colonial oppression in the Dutch East Indies today's Indonesia in the mid 1850s. Max Havelaar was a Dutch colonial administrator with a sense of justice who struggled against a corrupt local Raja and his own corrupt racist fellow officials in favor of the ruthlessly exploited local farmers. Other than Rutger Hauer in a small role, there are no name actors known outside of Holland, although Peter Faber in the title role is superb and firmly believable as Max, and the large cast of Indonesian actors, male and female, young and old, are completely authentic, unlike Hollywood's phony depictions of such "natives". In short"Havelaar" is a classic of world cinema whose nearly three hours of screen time flit by timelessly. If one were to see only one Dutch film this one is it. Not to miss if it ever comes your Way.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Knew the existence of the book and learned the tragic history
surrounding the events captured in the book as middle school student in
northern West Java. (Lebak, where most of the events took place, is
only less than 150km away).
Bought and read the H.B. Jassin's 1972 Indonesian translation of the book as a twenty-something year-old young man just graduated from university, also in West Java.
And finally watched the screen adaptation as a father of two just a few days ago.
Truly a must-watch (and the book, a must-read). An epic saga of human cruelty, both by physical means and means of denial. Superb naturalistic music (who needs artificial musical score when Java sings almost all the time in the film...).
And haunting finale will stay with you: when Havelaar cries out to a still picture of his king "en dat gebeurt in Uw Naam!"/"And all happens in your name!"/"(Dan semua terjadi) atas namamu!", and the film concludes with a whole church congregation singing Dutch rendering of Psalm 67 taken from The Genevan Psalter. Being an Indonesian, I can fully understand the irony conveyed by that final scene.
Again, quality films like this should be made more often.
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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