The Movie Waffler New to Prime Video - THE EAST | The Movie Waffler

New to Prime Video - THE EAST

New to Prime Video - THE EAST
young Dutch soldier questions his role in the crushing of a rebellion when he is assigned to a squad led by a brutal captain.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Jim Taihuttu

Starring: Martijn Lakemeier, Marwan Kenzari, Jonas Smulders, Joes Brauers

the east poster

As an archipelago with lucrative spice and cash crop potentials, seventeenth century Indonesia was a territory ripe for Western colonisation. Recognised as the Dutch East Indies from 1603 (the appellation Indonesia was only ‘officially’ accepted in 1949), during this era of European rule the indigenous people made certain moves towards independence. Limited emancipation was granted much later by the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies during World War II - where, due only to the internment of Dutch citizens, Indonesian people held administrative positions. History records the Pacific War years as an especially brutal time for Indonesia however, with a UN report stating that four million people died as a result of the occupation. Nonetheless, due to the relatively influential positions which the Indonesian people held during the Japanese occupation, and the ongoing global instability, nationalist leaders Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta declared Indonesian independence in 1945 following the Japanese surrender.

the east review

For the Dutch, who were of course themselves invaded and occupied by the Nazis over the previous five years, the ensuing decision to violently re-establish their colony is one of those mordant paradoxes which characterise international policies, and proves inconvenient to accepted historical narratives. Jim Taihuttu’s (with writing duties shared with Mustafa Duygulu) The East has apparently met controversy in The Netherlands due to its portrayal of Dutch soldiers in this post-Pacific War set drama, but even cursory research reveals a pestiferous truth at the heart of its representations.

When information is controlled, nothing is clear cut. And perhaps, then, we can understand why wide-eyed Johan de Vries (Martijn Lakemeier - the Milky Bar kid all grown up) has volunteered to support the Dutch cause in Indonesia: the country is being run by guerrilla freedom fighters, the Japanese occupation was savage, and, unbeknownst to others, de Vries has red in his ledger as his father was a member of a pro-Nazi organization in the Netherlands. De Vries is our fresh-faced Charlie Sheen epxy, habitually shocked by the (specifically) limited violence in the first half of the film, and cutely handing out biscuits to the local kids. And, as ever watching a period war film, the further away from the events depicted the film is, the more the audience may wonder how much of the representation is a sincere attempt to honour history and how much is propped up by common tropes of the genre: the goof who carries porn mags in his fatigues - ‘the library is open’ - the montage of lads on the town enjoying the local colour of moonshine and sex workers, the tentative male bonding.

the east review

However, a unique aspect of The East is its beautifully verdant locations and the expressive use of these tropical forests. In these lush, open spaces the very concept of violence seems absurdist, and, congruously, the film refrains from combat sequences: an absence which is tellingly felt by an audience conditioned to expect such conflict from The East’s window dressing of war iconography. Instead, there is simply the march through a humid pastoral, with occasional spurious searches of villages for supposed dissidents: Truffaut’s supposed adage about there being no such thing as an anti-war film does not apply here. In all this space, a just-about man could lose himself, and may need a focal point.

Enter Westerling (Marwan Kenzari), a charismatic ideologue army captain (Westerling was a real-life figure who was so committed to the acts of violence and sadism which his appointment as a soldier enabled him to enact that he wrote a book boasting about them and also appeared on television bragging about how many people he had killed - it is worth noting that Westerling was, for whatever reason, never charged with war crimes by the Dutch). Inevitably, young de Vries’ head is turned by ‘The Turk’s radical ideologies and links to high society.

the east review

What follows is an enactment of Westerling’s ‘counter insurgency’, a cold-blooded series of executions taking place in unarmed villages, aided by de Vries and the rest of Westerling’s green beret company. This visceral realisation of the banality of evil is interspersed with a fictionalised account of the now wall-eyed de Vries post war, haunted by his experiences and determined to track down Westerling.  A wish fulfilment ending may satisfy the requirements of narrative closure, and redeem the actions of a cowardly character, but the strangely pat conclusion of The East (compounded by the closing credit’s choice of music) seems disingenuous to the thousands of Indonesian deaths Westerling was responsible for.

The East is on Prime Video UK now.