REVIEW: THE EAST (2020) Being the third feature-length film directed by Jim Taihuttu after Rabat


The East is set in 1946 when the Dutch East Indies entered the Indonesian National Revolution. It is said that a young man from the Netherlands named Johan de Vries ( Martijn Lakemeier) who became a volunteer soldier and was then sent to the Semarang area, Central Java, Indonesia, to serve as one of the security guards for the people in the Dutch East Indies, which was being marred by civil conflict after declaring independence from the Japanese colony. Initially, Johan de Vries and his colleagues felt that their daily life was so boring because of the lack of conflict and battles they had to face. Johan de Vries then gets acquainted with a charismatic man known as The Turk ( Marwan Kenzari .).) which then guides and provides more in-depth information about the battlefield they are currently living on. Johan de Vries, slowly, became one of The Turk’s confidants. A position that unexpectedly then traps him in a series of bloodshed that makes him question the meaning of war and traumatizes him for the rest of his life.

Although talking about the battlefield, The East story script that was worked on by Taihuttu together with Mustafa Duygulu ( Catacombe , 2018) does not only focus on various conflicts and events that the main character must face during his war. Like Platoon (Oliver Stone, 1986) or American Sniper (Clint Eastwood, 2014), The Eastalso presents a layer of stories about how experiences on the battlefield produce trauma and psychological wounds that affect the main character’s daily life long after the war is over. The two stories that come from two different timelines are presented alternately by Taihuttu and combined with the main story about the journey of Johan de Vries’ character during his military duty.

Taihuttu’s slick work is able to make the two story timelines in The East develop well. When the first story timeline describes how Johan de Vries’ character, who was initially so enthusiastic about carrying out his “holy intentions” for his military duties, then began to realize that something was wrong with the war he was participating in, the second timeline is straightforward about how the main character struggles to adapt. He returns to his normal life and struggles to forget the psychic wounds of war he feels. Taihuttu is able to carefully balance the presentation of the two stories so that the emotional journey felt by Johan de Vries’ character can be executed in its entirety and in sufficient detail.

Despite basing the story on events that actually happened, the story script developed by Taihuttu and Duygulu is a fictional story that tries to emphasize a number of story themes that clearly still feel relevant to modern life today. Exploration of stories about attempts to make profits under the pretext of being part of the security guard, pitting against a group to weaken a group, to the lack of health and welfare insurance provided to those who were elected to carry out tasks from the state are presented in a straightforward manner. The Eastnor has it ever felt like presenting certain political agendas in his narrative. Although it involves a story about the story of the feud between the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), this film prefers to present a story about the impact of war more universally – the anti-war element that makes the story of The East more binding.

The pace of the narrative of The East itself does not always run smoothly. The duration of the story that reaches 137 minutes can be streamlined by reducing a number of scenes that are not so essential in the main storyline, scenes that appear a bit long-winded in the story, or scenes that repeat conflicts that have previously been presented. Several conflicts, characters, and dialogues – especially those that use Indonesian which sound so stiff – that are present in the storyline also seem to be executed in an immature manner. Even so, the weaknesses of the story do not have a big impact on the quality of The East’s storyoverall, especially when Taihattu managed to present it with a very convincing production quality. Taihattu ensures that his film will be able to drag every audience’s eye into the dark times of war. Not only presenting scenes full of explosions or gun battles, this film is also filled with a series of violent and bloody images that make the real feel of a war even more pronounced.

The East is also blessed with solid performances from its film acting department filler. The appearances of actors from Indonesia such as Lukman Sardi , Yayu Unru , to Putri Ayudya will obviously be very easy to steal the attention. However, The East managed to present its best moments thanks to the very convincing performances of the two main actors, Lakemeier and Kenzari. Lakemeier straightforwardly brings to life his character who faces various challenges that slowly begin to affect his mental state. The Eastspeaks fluently and convincingly thanks to Lakemeier’s performance which is able to translate the emotional journey of his character. Kenzari himself managed to give a strong charisma to the figure of The Turk. His character is not given a lot of dialogue, but Kenzari is able to make the figure he plays feels gripping and intimidating in his every presence. Very impressive achievement.