Sat, 26 Feb 2000

See face of Indonesia in Hasse's novel 'Oeroeg'

By Gotot Prakosa

JAKARTA (JP): Oeroeg is a bestselling novel in the Netherlands. Written by Hella S. Hasse, it was first published in 1947 and has been reprinted several times.

It is about the friendship between two boys of different racial and cultural backgrounds; one is Indonesian and the other Dutch. The friendship turns into animosity over the course of history.

As Oeroeg (Martin Schwab) reaches adulthood, he has to keep his distance from his childhood buddy Johan (Rik Launspach). Oeroeg ought to support the independence movement that the Dutch colonialists were trying to thwart, whereas Johan has already joined the Dutch army.

The novel has been made into film by Hans Hylkema, a famous director who has made many TV serials. He said he was fascinated by the novel's strong characterization.

The film will be screened at Erasmus Huis on Saturday (today).

According to a 1993 edition of Moving Picture magazine in Cannes, the film was shot in Indonesia over 50 days. It used 39,000 meters of 35mm-film and involved 80 professional actors and 2,000 extras. Thirty five of the 150-strong crew were European and the rest were from Indonesia.

The production cost was said to reach 5 million deutchmark (about Rp 5 billion at that time). The money to make the film came from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, the three main backers. It was a big-budget film by Indonesian standards. By way of comparison, Eros Jarot's colossal Cut Nya' Dien cost about Rp 1.5 billion to make in 1987-1988. Average production costs averaged Rp 300 million at that time.

Oeroeg is a collaboration between a Dutch film company with several European companies and Indonesia's Prasidi Teta Film.

When it was shot in 1992, the film was titled Oeroeg after the novel's original title, but after it was distributed internationally, it was renamed Going Home and dubbed into English. The original language used when the film was shot was Dutch. The film featured in the exhibition at the 46th Cannes Film Festival in 1993.

Hylkema has used extra care in creating visual artistry. The cast's costumes are immaculate -- too spotless in fact. If there is a weaknesses in the film, it is probably the minimum role played by the Indonesian cast.

The main actors are all Dutch. This should be understood as a tactic to win the European audience. Indonesian actors were only rewarded with minor parts.

The main Dutch actors are Rik Launspach, Martin Schwab, Tom van Bauwel, Josee Ruiter, Peter Faber, Ivon Pelasula and Jeroen Krabbe. The latter had the main part in Left Luggage, which was screened in Jakarta recently.

Some of the Indonesian stars have their names on the posters and in the credits, such as Ayu Azhari, Adi Kurdi and Yose Rizal Manua, but their roles are minor.

A promotional article on Moving Picture by Hillsa Entertainment said that while shooting in Indonesia the crew encountered various problems, such as unpredictable stormy weather and traffic jams in Cirebon, Sukabumi (both in West Java) and Jakarta.

George Kamarullah, an local cameraman involved in the shooting, said the project was very well planned and it was accomplished on time -- something that local filmmakers should learn from.

Oeroeg is one of a number of Dutch films shot in Indonesia and involving Indonesians. Among those already screened in Jakarta are Fon Rademakers' Max Havelaar (1976), a film based on a book written by Multatuli; and Bernie Ijdis's The Great Pos Road (1997) staring Pramudya Ananta Toer. The most recent Dutch film shot in Indonesia was Tropic of Emerald (1997) directed by Orlow Seunke.

Unfortunately, those films are not distributed in Indonesian cinemas. Max Havelaar was banned by the New Order regime's censor board for some time on the grounds that it offended the Subang regent, while Rademakers insisted that the scene could not be cut without disrupting the whole story.

Oeroeg was once shown in public cinemas and aired by a private TV station but it was a financial flop, probably because of a lack of promotion, technical problems or wrong timing.

These Dutch films with an Indonesian setting need to be seen by a wider audience throughout Indonesia, not only by a privileged few in Jakarta. They are made professionally, unlike the locally-made films that always portray the Dutch as evil.

The Dutch films serve as a good mirror for Indonesians.