Soegija: A Movie About Humanity

I’ve been meaning to write this post ever since I watched the movie on the 8th of June, but of course, procrastination always gets the better of me, so here I am, finally writing this post. (SPOILER ALERT!)

The title of this movie is taken from the name of the first Javanese Catholic pastor in the former Indonesia (known as the Dutch East Indies) who was later named as one of Indonesian national hero, Albertus Soegijapranata. Soegija is said to be his nickname. Nevertheless, the movie itself is not actually a biographical movie about him, but instead, it involves around the life of multiple character around Soegija. There were at least about 7 notable characters, including Sogija (played by Nirwan Dewanto) himself, each with their own life turmoils in the midst of a chaotic country, looking for an identity of a nation.

Nirwan Dewanto as Soegija
Hendrick and Mariyem

There were Mariyem, a Catholic nurse (played by Annisa Hertami Kusumastuti) who was entangled in a search of her brother and the pursue of a Dutch reporter falling in love with her, Hendrick (played by Wouter Braaf). Meanwhile, Hendrick himself was torn between his love for Mariyem, passion and pity towards Indonesians’ fate intertwined between one colonialism over another colonialism (the movie moves chronologically forward from the end of the Dutch colonialism, Japanese afterwards, and then the Indonesian independence, and lastly the Dutch military aggression post-Independence day in order to re-colonized Indonesia), as well as his loyalty towards his own country. His friendship with a Dutch soldier, Robert (played by Wouter Zweers) didn’t help either as Robert is cruel and racist towards Indonesian, thinking that he’s way superior than Indonesian (which was a typical mindset at that time). He always looked down on Indonesian thinking of them as nothing but people who ought to be ruled by his country. One scene stands out, though. It was during the post-Independence time, when the Dutch was trying to take over Indonesia once again, and he searched the citizens’ houses to look for Indonesian soldiers, a native man didn’t want to move from where he stood even when Robert and his soldier threatened to kill him because they thought he was trying to hide something or someone. Only when they finally shot him did they realize the native man was merely trying to protect his baby. Then Robert approached the baby, and when I thought he was about to kill him, instead he took the baby into his arms, and then cuddled him. When the baby was crying, he was trying to calm him, and kept on doing so whilst walking out of the house. That scene really touched me, as it shows how someone portrayed as cruel as Robert is also shown to have a gentle, soft side within him.

Wouter Zweers as Robert
Olga Lidya in Soegija

Then there’s Ling Ling (played by Andrea Reva), who got caught up in the midst of chaos in the country as well, as her mom (played by Olga Lidya) was taken away by the Japanese as they took over Indonesia in the 2nd World War. She and her grandfather (played by Henky Solaiman) were forced to take refuge in the Catholic church, and this was where their fates crossed over with other characters in the movie since the church was where everybody else sought comfort and protection as Soegija shielded the people from colonialists. And that was also where Mariyem cared and tended the locals and at the same time tried to look for his missing brother amongst the war victims. Hendrick was also there, trying to help the people and reporting as well, including trying to win Mariyem’s heart. The first time they met, Hendrick called Mariyem as Maria, but she refused and insisted to be called Mariyem. By the end of the movie, though, she addressed herself as Maria. I suppose this would mean that she’d come to love Hendrick, eh?

Another notable character is a Japanese comrade, Nobuzuki (played by Nobuyuki Suzuki), who was not free from conflict as well. Once the Japanese ruled, he captured the Dutch soldiers and killed them, and many times local people also got involved. Every things related to the Dutch were banished and forbidden, and there was this one scene where he met a bunch of musician and prohibited them to play any western song. Then after he asked them whether they could play any other pieces, they played Bengawan Solo, and he grew fond of it. Later I found out from this blog that Bengawan Solo is a famous song in Japan. It is a beautiful classic, indeed.

The main character himself didn’t really stand out to me. I mean, it was clear that he was trying to protect the people as a pastor and as an Indonesian as well. Since he was an important person, the people looked up to him and listened to what he said. And as a pastor, he was having the privilege to do certain things that others couldn’t do. For example, when both the Dutch and the Javanese were trying to take the church down, he defended the church because it was actually a refugee for the poor and starving citizens. And he cared for the people. When people were trying to give him comfort (since, of course, he’s no ordinary person), he told everyone to care for the people first, and not him. One line that really touches me is when he said that whenever there’s food, pastors and evangelists are supposed to be the last to eat and they are also supposed to be the ones to starve when food is scarce. Touché. Then during the aggression by the Dutch, he seek recognition for Indonesian independence from Vatican right away, and Vatican was amongst the first countries to acknowledge and admit that Indonesia is one free country.

The movie itself is very good and vivid portrayal of Indonesia at that time. We know that many, many people lived under poverty at that time, and many times they got killed for no reason. The movie gives a very good depiction on how difficult that time must seemed, and the cinematography is awesome. At least that’s what I think. There’s one scene where people were marching at either dawn or dusk (I couldn’t tell the difference, sorry) and it shows the silhouette of people lining up. It was so beautiful.

Yet, I hate to admit that the movie itself looks like nothing but a documentary with a very good cinematography to me. Watching the movie from beginning to end, I felt like I was merely shown an event over another event in history chronologically. It lacks heavy conflicts and climax, and if it’s line graph, it would be a flat line to me. Of course, this is merely what I think and it might differ greatly with others’ interpretation. Despite showing how significant Soegija’s role at that time, his image throughout the movie felt to me like someone so far above the people, where, in contrast with the citizens’ struggle with the situation at that time in the movie, he looked well-fed, healthy and always at peace to me. I mean, if he was fighting for the people, sure he couldn’t look that good! He was mostly siting, writing, walking around, thinking, and constantly in comfort behind the walls and under the roofs. There was even a scene where he got his servant cut his hair while he was reading the news paper, and they looked so relaxed talking to each other and even joking around. It was completely different with the depiction of other characters’ conflicts.

Another thing is the act. I mean, they acted well, but nothing too wow to me, except for Wouter Zweers’ act as Robert, perhaps, because his portrayal of a loony, cruel, yet somehow with little compassion left in him looked so convincing to me. And some scenes looked too staged for me, like when Mariyem was trying to sent the Dutch soldiers away from the hospital when they were looking for Indonesian soldiers. As Soegija pointed out, she told the soldiers that everybody in the hospital were patients, not soldiers or anything else, and as a nurse, she and the doctors ought to do their job that is to care for them. Then suddenly she simply crouched, on her knees, and tending an old woman lying sick on the floor, yet that old woman barely did anything significant. She looked like she was sleeping to me, so what on earth did she crouched for, out of the blue? Or when Ling Ling was praying in front of Mary’s statue, and then out of nowhere, she just slowly (veeeeery slowly, and, of course, very dramatically) turned around, only to found her mother was standing behind her. Wow, did she have a sixth sense? The next thing that happened was even more dramatic as Ling Ling and her mother were running toward each other, and there was this slow motion until they finally hugged, cried, and laughed.

Again, that’s just my opinion.

Nevertheless, I think the movie is worth-watching. What really excites me throughout the movie is how each character switched from one language to another. I mean, the Dutch were speaking Dutch, and sometimes speak Indonesian a little, and most Indonesian in the movie speak Javanese, and the Japanese speak Japanese. It was really fun watching how the movie depicts a radio announcer reporting events in a high level Javanese (we called it “Krama Inggil”, a Javanese language used only when talking to noblemen, royalties, and elder people; see, Javanese has three different kinds of language for talking to people with different social class and status–the Ngoko, Krama Madya, and Krama Inggil). Since the movie was set in Central Java and more specifically Semarang and other regions near Semarang, the dialects used are mostly of Semarang dialect (I didn’t say Central Javanese dialects since the dialect from my hometown which is also located in Central Java is completely different).

All in all, this movie was not one without controversy. Even before it got premiered on June 7th, a group of a hard-line Moslem, famously known as FPI–Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defender Front)–(and news about them never fail to piss me off) protested that this is a Christian movie and meant to change people’s belief. Even Garin Nugroho (the director) commented that this is a movie about humanity. Whatever it is, the protest itself sounds ridiculous to me, for it sounds like nothing but FPI people’s insecurities that Moslem people would convert into Christians or Catholics. What the hell is that if not insecurities?

Festival Malang Kembali: Malang From the Past

It’s been a while ever since I wrote my last post, and after procrastination after procrastination, I finally able to write this one.

So let’s do a little flash back to avoid confusion.

Starting from June 2011, I had been living in a wonderful city in East Java called Malang. Without realizing it, I apparently have gotten more fond to this city more than I intended to. And I realized that only now because on the third week of June, I will have to move again to the bigger Surabaya. It’s only about 3-5 hours from Malang, really, but still, the thought of leaving Malang so soon makes me feel sad.

Anyway, another reason to love (and hate, actually) Malang is because every year, the city held an event called Festival Malang Kembali or also known as Malang Tempoe Doeleoe (the word “Tempoe Doeloe” is written in the old Indonesian spelling). The best English equivalent that I could think of is “Malang From the Past.” Why so? Because on this event, you could see street sellers and sponsor institutions or organizations recreate warung (a diner where they usually sell food at a cheap price, and the food sold is usually traditional food, or Chinese food nowadays) or buildings in a way that it feels like you’re back in the colonial and post-colonial era. Simply put: Indonesia from the past. Well, Malang, to be more precise.

Aye, THAT crowded.

So this event was held on 24 June – 27 June on two big streets (nearby my place, luckily) called Ijen and Semeru. The latter was, thankfully, only used for a few km. Apparently this event caused the traffic route to change as well because starting from several miles around those two were blocked, and this caused another street (also near my place) to be extremely crowded and even caused traffic jam (which doesn’t usually happen in a small city like Malang unless you’re lining up for the basement parking lot at the mall) because all vehicles were rerouted over there.

I was pretty excited about this event because, of course, what else could a person who always dream that time machine really exists other than reenacting the days from the past through this event? Although the event turned out to be quite different than what I had imagined, I did had a lot of fun. The event turned out to be a very, VERY big kind of pasar malam (translated literally to “night market,” which is indeed a market that usually opened during the evening and usually offers cheap food, drinks, goods, toys, snacks, etc), and a very crowded one, too. Of course the only difference is that the goods being sold were goods from the old times, the sellers were dressed in Javanese traditional dress, and their kiosk were built like Javanese huts or gazebo that you would usually see in the middle of a rice fields or in villages in rural areas. I’ll post a lot photos below, and you could see that they actually sold old coins and paper money, dating back to the era where the Kingdom of Majapahit still reigned (around 1293-1500; at least they claimed the coins to be from the Majapahit era) as well as newspaper dating back from the 1900’s. (I mean, where the hell did they get those!?)

“Ojo Dumeh.” A Javanese old saying. My Javanese is very poor, but I suppose it could mean “Don’t be (a) Proud (Person).” Feel free to correct me, though.
This reminds me of Japanese’s Hinamatsuri. The dolls, I mean. I guess if Javanese has its own Hinamatsuri, these would be the perfect dolls for display. This shows a Wayang performance, with the mastermind called “Dalang” responsible to move the Wayang as well as doing the storytelling. The other people around him are playing background music with Javanese traditional music instruments known as “Gamelan.”
A guys making a traditional snack called “Gulali” (sweets). Unhealthy snacks but we love it because the seller can shape the gulali into anything. In this picture he was trying to make a rose.
Another traditional entertainment known as “Topeng Monyet.” It’s actually pretty cruel, as the guy would chain the monkey’s neck and make them imitate human’s behavior with mini bicycles, desk, chairs and such. I once heard that the monkeys are treated cruelly in order to make them obey the masters.

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I was exploring the festival only on the night of the first day and the third day on the afternoon. Then I met this old man selling a toy kids used to play with in the past. I asked him–let’s refer to him as Pak S (FYI, ‘pak’ is how you refer older man in my country to show respect–it’s an abbreviation of “Bapak”)–about the toy because even though I recognize the shape, I never played with it when I was a kid. He told me it was his toy back when he was a little kid (he’s 72 years old now), and he was there in the festival only to sell those toys. On his usual days, he told me he’d usually stay at home with his family, and sometimes repair shoes in his workshop in Sukarno-Hatta (a street name in Malang) if someone’s shoes needs repairing. Anyway, I asked him what it is called, and he said something that sounds to me like, “Tulup,” but again, my ears might deceive me. Later I found out that it’s more famous with the name “Pletokan.” It’s a kind of toy gun made of bamboo. You put crushed papers or newspaper into both sides of the Pletokan, and then, with the thinner stick, you pulled from one side, and the paper on the other side would fly out, though it won’t be so far, really. He kindly showed me how to play with that, and he was so nice.

Pak S showing me how to use Pletokan

Since I’m moving to another city, this might be my first and last festival, although I wouldn’t wish so. But I’m glad that I took many pictures. I’m just hoping I could see another one next year, but we’ll see, aye?