(REVIEW) The East (2020)


Ever heard the lyric “If you only give a smile, Westerling smiles“? That’s right, the lyrics were part of Iwan Fals’ song, entitled “Airplane Combat”. But who exactly is Westerling? Why did Iwan Fals immortalize it in a song that was so phenomenal in his musical career ?

Westerling was a Dutch soldier who had led a mission in South Sulawesi. Westerling is known as a cruel and unforgiving person when executing Indonesian people. The story of Westerling’s cruelty is framed in a Dutch film entitled The East or in Dutch entitled De Oost . You can watch it on the Mola TV platform since August 7, 2021.

The East film tells the story of a young man named Johan de Vries who decides to join the Dutch military. He was stationed in the Indies and given an assignment in Semarang. One day, de Vries got into a conflict with the remnants of the Japanese army.

When things get more chaotic. Suddenly a Dutchman with army attributes came and kicked the Japanese soldiers until they were frightened. That person was Raymond Westerling. Westerling is well known in Indonesia, because he is a senior soldier who has fought in many countries.

Since then, de Vries has grown closer to Raymond and admires him. Even when de Vries’s unit leader didn’t listen to him about the clues to the location of the Indonesian fighters, de Vries complained to Raymond and they carried out their own operation to kill the Indonesian fighters. However, the active struggle of the Indonesian people is still burning . For this reason, the Netherlands continued to expand its expansion wider to Sulawesi.

Raymond was appointed to lead the unit with several men, one of whom was de Vries. However, it was in Sulawesi that Raymond’s cruelty began to show. He massacred the Indonesian people with cruelty. Without a court, Indonesians are shot at will. That’s where de Vries’s mind refused, he felt what Raymond had done was too much.

The East film received a lot of praise from various circles. The film’s director, Jim Taihuttu, is of Maluku descent whose grandfather was an Indonesian soldier. He feels close to what happened in Indonesia decades ago. Many people praised this film for daring to speak the truth .

So far, not many in the Netherlands know that their country once colonized a country called Indonesia. Even if there is, a positive point of view that is emphasized from the Dutch colonization of the Motherland for centuries. This film is considered as an acknowledgment that the Dutch had committed atrocities against the Indonesian people.

However, in addition to getting a lot of praise, this film also received a lot of criticism and insults. Some argue that the story of this film is too exaggerated and does not match historical facts. In fact, Westerling’s son, openly objected to the portrayal of his father who was felt so cruel in the film. The son even said that his father was respected in Indonesia and earned the nickname ‘Queen of Justice’.

The pros and cons of the film The East are still going on. Regardless of who is right, what is clear is that this film is indeed a fictional film. The character of de Vries is fictitious. However, the portrayal of Raymond Westerling is believed to be close to the real figure. Jim Taihuttu and his team even conducted research for four years so that not many historical facts were missed .

Due to historical facts that not many people know, you could say this film is so rare. Yes, how many foreign films tell about the war in Indonesia? Maybe this is the new film that presents it in detail and refers to the original figure.

In Indonesia, there are so many films about colonialism. These include the Merdeka Trilogy , Sang Kiai (2013), or the Warriors of Dreams (2010), all of which tell the story of Indonesia’s background during the colonial period. While abroad, not many films see the war in Indonesia as an interesting story idea.

Although it features Raymond Westerling as one of the main actors, this is not a biopic or documentary with a 100 percent original storyline. Film The East is a fiction film with enough research done.

So, this is the director’s interpretation of the figure of a Raymond Westerling and what happened when the Dutch Military Aggression II disaster (Operation Kraai) occurred. According to several book sources, Westerling’s cruelty is depicted beyond what is shown in the film.