The East (Dutch: De Oost) is a 2020 Dutch war film directed by Jim Taihuttu.
The film is set in the Dutch East Indies of 1946 during the Indonesian National Revolution. Twenty-year-old soldier Johan de Vries from Arcen is sent to Semarang, where the Dutch army says it is to liberate the Indonesian people from the authority of Sukarno. Johan believes in the promise to help the population, but soon discovers that the reality is different: he notices that the population is hostile to the Dutch army and that his colleagues in turn hardly act against war crimes. For example, the army takes no action when the chiefs of a nearby village are found beheaded. Johan’s fellow soldiers are instead more concerned with visiting local brothels and refer to the population as ‘monkeys’.
After three months, during a patrol, the corps is suddenly attacked by Indonesian guerrillas, in which soldier Werner is killed. Army captain Raymond Westerling, who leads counter-guerrilla actions and purges against the Indonesian revolutionaries, tracks down the man who shot Werner and involves Johan in torturing the man. Johan then accompanies Westerling on a perilous journey deep into enemy territory to take out guerrilla fighters, making his first victim in the process.
Westerling admits Johan to his secret mission and carries out various assignments. Not much later, Johan is promoted to corporal. He hardens and the corps becomes increasingly alienated from him: his comrade Mattias Cohen is startled when Johan shoots a guerrilla fighter in cold blood. Meanwhile, rumours are spread about Johan’s family in the camp. He told the soldiers himself that his entire family had died, but in reality his father is serving a prison sentence in Vught because he was a prominent member of the National Socialist Movement during World War II who was responsible for the deaths of more than a thousand Jews.
Johan and some fellow soldiers accompany Westerling on a dangerous purge mission to South Sulawesi. Led by Westerling, the army kills suspected guerrillas and innocent civilians are also victims of his violent regime. It bothers Johan that the suspects are convicted and killed without any trial. Gradually, Johan starts to question the war more and more.
In one of the settlements, a suspect claims to be innocent and to have been framed. Johan pleads to find out before the man is convicted, which Westerling interprets as insubordination and treason. He then declares Johan an outlaw and orders the corps to shoot him. Johan flees into the jungle and kills soldier Eddy Coolen. To his great surprise, Mattias also turned against him. After a confrontation with Westerling, Johan finally manages to escape with a gunshot wound.
Once in the Netherlands, Johan is unable to pick up his old life. He cannot find a job and struggles with hatred towards his father. Years later, he visits Westerling in a theater where he works as an actor. Johan shoots him in the stomach and then commits suicide.
- Martijn Lakemeier as Johan de Vries
- Marwan Kenzari as Raymond Westerling
- Jonas Smulders as Mattias Cohen
- Joes Brauers as Herman Keizer
- Huub Smit as Lieutenant Hartman
- Jeroen Perceval as Chaplain Janssen
- Peter Paul Muller as Major Penders
- Jim Deddes as Werner de Val
- Reinout Scholten van Aschat as Tinus de Val
- David Wristers as Marcus Waterman
- Abel van Gijlswijk as Sjaak ‘Charlie’ Rondhuis
- Coen Bril as Eddy Coolen
- Mike Reus as Camp Commander Mulder
- Joenoes Polnaija as Samuel Manuhio
- Denise Aznam as Gita Tamim
- Putri Ayudya as Myra
- Lukman Sardi as Bakar
Director Jim Taihuttu had been developing a film project about a “black page of Dutch history” since 2012. Producer Sander Verdonk joined the film in 2015 and from then on started looking for financiers.
In writing the screenplay, the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies were consulted for historical facts, and a conscious effort was made to find a co-production partner in Indonesia. Verdonk told us about the reasons behind this: “For us such a cooperation was very important. We didn’t want to settle down there like some kind of neo-colonist and make a little film. A large part of the crew was Indonesian.”
The filming period started in February 2019 in Indonesia, ultimately filming for 48 days in Indonesia, with six additional filming days in the Netherlands.
First footage of the film was released in May 2020, premiering at the Netherlands Film Festival on 25 September 2020. The film was originally scheduled for theatrical release on 10 September 2020, but due to delays incurred by COVID-19, the release was postponed until 13 May 2021, alongside a release on Amazon Prime Video.
Prior to release, the filmmakers developed a teaching package with film fragments for schools, with the aim of turning the Indonesian War of Independence, which had hardly been discussed in schools until then, into teaching material. Producer New Amsterdam intended to set up a major information campaign about the Indonesian War of Independence in collaboration with, among others, the East West Foundation and the Indies Remembrance Centre.
The film came under scrutiny in September 2020 when the Moluccan diaspora interest group Maluku4Maluku, veterans’ rights advocacy group Veterans Platform, and the Federation of Dutch Indos publicly condemned the trailer of the film. The organizations accused the filmmakers of ‘historical inaccuracies’ and made a critical comparison between the Dutch soldiers in The East with the military of Nazi Germany. Examples were the historically incorrect black uniforms worn by the actors, reminiscent of those worn by the Schutzstaffel, the ‘Hitler mustache’ of the film’s Raymond Westerling, and the use of the blackletter typeface, commonly associated with German publications. In reality, Dutch troops wore standard light uniforms and Westerling did not have a moustache. Maluku4Maluku frontman Leo Reawaruw demanded a preview of the film on behalf of stakeholders, but this request was not granted. Producer Sander Verdonk commented: “This history is complex and traumatic for some, we want to show that. It would be a shame if the discussion about the war of independence now mainly focuses on a mustache and uniforms. We will not make any substantive changes to the film.”
Due to the continuing angry response from Dutch veterans, Indos, and Moluccans, it was announced in December 2020 that the film was to receive a disclaimer, which would make it clear that the film is an interpretation of the producer and director and not based on truth. The Federation of Dutch Indos added that the film gives an “incorrect and one-sided picture of the situation in the Dutch East Indies”. Verdonk then announced that a disclaimer would not be published.
- The Dutch production shot for 2.5 months on location in Indonesia.
- The shoot was plagued by many complications: heavy rainfall caused river floods that washed away parts of the set; locations that were guaranteed to be safe were teeming with crocodiles; cast and crew got sick with typhus, food poisoning and sun strokes, and the director’s assistant (the director’s sister) was bitten by a scorpion.
- Calls to prayer coming from nearby mosques also caused constant disruptions, so most of the sounds and dialogues had to be redone in post-production.
- The scene in the East-Indian villa was not filmed on location in Indonesia, but at castle Sandenburg near Utrecht, the Netherlands, which was dressed to look Indonesian for the occasion.
- Even though the scene is supposed to be set during a hot summer evening, the shoot was done in very cold circumstances and was nearly disrupted by rain.
- The jungle confrontation near the end of the filmed was shot in a nearby forest, which was adorned with palm and banana trees.
- Director Jim Taihuttu worked on the movie since 2013 because his great-grandfather had fought and died as a sergeant in the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army during the Indonesian Independence War.
- Taihuttu, who moved to Indonesia for the movie, felt that this controversial chapter in history had never been properly taught in schools nor depicted on film, even though it had been the reason that his family had moved to the Netherlands.
- Flash forward scenes are in a different ratio 1:85. Present scenes are in ratio 2:40.
Production & Filming Details
- Jim Taihuttu
- Rini Atmodjo … line producer
- Andi Boediman … executive producer
- Nate Bolotin … executive producer
- Maxime Cottray … executive producer
- Shanty Harmayn … producer
- Philip Harthoorn … line producer
- Jelani Isaacs … executive producer
- Joppo … executive producer
- Marwan Kenzari … executive producer
- Frank Klein … executive producer
- Julius Ponten … producer
- Benoit Roland … producer
- Nick Spicer … executive producer
- Jim Taihuttu … producer
- Aram Tertzakian … executive producer
- Sander Verdonk … producer
- Jim Taihuttu … (written by)
- Jim Taihuttu … (co-written by)
- Mustafa Duygulu … (co-written by)
- Gino Taihuttu … composer
- Lennart Verstegen … director of photography
- Mieneke Kramer
- Emiel Nuninga
- Base Entertainment
- France 2 Cinéma
- Ideosource Entertainment
- Kaninga Pictures
- New Amsterdam Film Company
- Salto Films
- Wrong Men North
- XYZ Films
- Splendid Film (Netherlands, 2021)(theatrical)
- Amazon Prime Video (World-wide, 2021)(VOD, video)
- NTR (Netherlands, 2022)(NPO 3, TV)
- Release Date: 25 September 2020 (Nederlands Film Festival, Netherlands)
- Running Time: 137 minutes.
- Rating: Unknown.
- Country: Netherlands, Belgium, Indonesia, France, and the US.
- Language: Dutch and Indonesian.