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  Max Havelaar Going Dutch
Year: 1976
Director: Fons Rademakers
Stars: Peter Faber, Sacha Bulthuis, Adendu Soesilaningrat, Maruli Sitompul, Krijn ter Braak, Carl van der Plas, Rima Melati, Joop Admiraal, Pitradjaya Burnama, Herry Lantho, Nenny Zulaini, Sofia W.D., Minih bin Misan, Rutger Hauer, Frans Vorstman
Genre: Drama, Thriller, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In Indonesia, the Dutch are ruling over all with a colonial power, which means corruption is an everyday occurrence for the populace. They may be threatened by the local wildlife, such as tigers which are eager to feast on their livestock, but the real danger is from people, who will, for example, take a buffalo which has saved a young child from said tiger and claim it as taxation, leaving the child's family with nothing. Taxation is the Regent's excuse to ride roughshod over his subjects, and the Dutch are able to back him up with the threat of violence, even death, should they not agree to go along with the harsh demands. But one man may be able to stop all this - and he is Dutch.

Step forward Max Havelaar, played by Peter Faber, in this Dutch production of a classic work of literature in their country, not to mention Indonesia, which savagely attacked the hypocrisy and criminality of their own state back in the days when they were ruling parts of the world other than their own. Fons Rademakers was the man at the helm, a future Oscar-winner (for Best Foreign Language Feature - though not for this), but despite the respect he gained and the connections he had in the industry, is now something of a forgotten figure, having never really made a classic that gets mentioned in the same breath as other lauded European directors. This was also neglected.

Obviously aping the epic movies of the likes of David Lean, Rademakers ventured to Indonesia and hired locals as actors to tell his tale, the book having been penned by the pseudonymous Multatuli back in the nineteenth century. If you're from Holland or Indonesia, chances are you are aware of the novel, but the film is not as widely seen, despite its obvious quality and faithfulness to the anger at the exploitation of the Asian nation, though here we were invited to ponder if things were much different, as conquering kingdoms were replaced by corporations: there is a series of pointed references to the coffee business, for example, that are designed to provoke sober ruminations.

Max himself is a noble chap, who wants to make the best of the situation and see to it that the citizens of Java are treated with fairness and respect, and definitely not exploited; good luck with that, is the response of the story as while he makes progress, the forces of the status quo are too heavily stacked in their own favour, and though we can see how Max's plans could have worked very well, he didn't count on being so effectively opposed by those who are very comfortable with the ways circumstances were back then. Though he starts something, a spirit of the age that tries to get a revolution in place, by the end the brutality of vested interests reveals that tragically, frustratingly, he has been completely wasting his time, and the film ends with his screams of impotent rage at the injustice of it all.

Mind you, you could have told Max that before he started, for we have noted well that his predecessor who tried to spark change was basically murdered when the Regent invited him to a private dinner at the palace, where the man was poisoned to death, leaving a wife and children who were "natives" behind him, to both highlight his sympathies and also how he was backing the wrong horse if he wanted to survive (the wife haunts the grounds of Max's manor like a ghost from then on, too scared to engage with anyone). While this was all very righteous in its themes, and you wouldn't like to meet someone who couldn't agree with Max's philosophies of doing the right thing, it did not need to be nearly three hours long, and though it made its points with admirable clarity, they were made with some heaviness of style, and the hero's dedicated White Saviour syndrome was hammered into submission. Nevertheless, you could make the same accusations of many far more reactionary epics, and it assuredly was not that. The religious angle, that the colonials with God on their side were far from practicing what they preached as far as good, Christian deeds went, is well delivered. Worth watching if you have the time, and Rutger Hauer was in it too.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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