(Original title Soekarno: Indonesia Merdeka)

Directed by Hanung Bramantyo; Produced by Raam Punjabi; Screenplay by Hanung Bramantyo & Ben Sihombing; Starring Ario Bayu, Maudy Koesnaedi; Tika  Bravani, Lukman Sardi, Tanta Ginting; Cinematography Faozan Rizal;  Edited by Andy Manoppo; Production  Company MVP Pictures, Mahaka Pictures & Dapur Film; Release date 11 December 2013 (Indonesia), 14 August 2014 (Singapore); Country Indonesia; Language Indonesian; Budget (no data)

    While books written about Soekarno are abundant, is it necessary to produce biopics about him? The short answer is: why not? Films are able to interpret history in a more lifelike manner (through audio-visual means) compared to written texts or historical manuscripts. Another reason is also attributed towards the absence of Indonesian films bold enough to attempt to portray the multifaceted figure of the proclaimer of Indonesian independence.   

    As the forefather of independent Indonesia and the people’s voice, the figure of Soekarno provides a fascinating material for text that is worth exploring cinematically. Soekarno’s well-known reputation as a womaniser adds an interesting dimension towards the person underneath his public persona. However, transforming the figure of Soekarno into the silver screen poses risks – extending from historical accuracy, or lack of it, to his treatment and portrayal in the film by the director. In addition, there is the frequent phenomenon of controversies following historical films.

    Hanung Bramantyo’s 127 minute-long fifteenth feature film opens with a montage of Soekarno’s (who was initially known as Kusno) childhood and his subsequent transition to adolescence. In his youth, Soekarno fell in love with a Dutch maiden, Mien. Instead of winning over the hearts of her family, he was insulted by her father. This incident had likely left an indelible impression on Soekarno who would incite opposition towards the figures of the colonial masters who have sucked and exploited his people dry. At the age of 24, Soekarno exclaimed: “We must be free now!” Subsequently, the colonial masters responded in turn by arresting and sentencing him prior to exiling him to Ende (Flores), a penal colony.

    Soekarno’s subsequent exile in Bengkulu, following his time in Ende, was positioned as a crucial episode to his meeting with Fatmawati. There, Soekarno carried out his political campaign through teaching. During his teaching stint, however, his attention was redirected to the intelligence and beauty of his female student, Fatmawati (played rather well by Tika Bravani). His infatuation led to him visiting Fatmawati’s house unabashedly. His habit of stealing glances at his beautiful student became apparent to Inggit Garnasih who has stayed with him throughout his exile. At this point, Soekarno was intended by its creators to offer a human portrayal of Soekarno with his own weaknesses and failings.

    Soon, Japan’s imperialist ambition to conquer Asia and elevate its propaganda as the ‘big brother,’ who freed Asia from its previous colonial masters brought forth a dilemma to Soekarno. While he was cognisant that the Japanese empire would exploit his popularity to garner support, he was also fully aware that such collaboration with Japan would not only face mockery among highly nationalistic and radical communities, would additionally cost many lives. In the midst of his dilemma, Inggit offers a brilliant solution – as opposed to submitting to the whims of the Japanese empire, Soekarno could manipulate them instead. Hence, his decision to cooperate with the Japanese empire was accompanied by his plan towards Indonesia’s independence.  

    As is well known, Soekarno was close to another nationalist figure, Mohammad Hatta (played by Lukman Sardi). However, the latent tension between the Soekarno-Hatta duo lacked exploration in this film. While differences in the leadership styles between the duo were apparent in the film, the two were almost shown without an acute degree of conflict. For instance, when Soekarno and Hatta met in Young Admiral Maeda’s residence, their views on post-independence Indonesia were portrayed as merely different – with Soekarno suggesting a united country which has resolved the differences in ethnic groups, languages and traditions, while Hatta favoured a federation of states recognising the differences within the diverse ethnic groups while anticipating the potential conflicts between the different ethnic groups in the future. In the end, the two resolved to establish a committee for the preparation of Indonesian independence instead of pushing ahead with their individual views. Their differences came into play again when they were evaluating their abilities to lead Indonesia. Predictably, Soekarno was highly optimistic while Hatta is pessimistic in contrast.

    The characterisation of Soekarno and Hatta were portrayed as contrasts to the radical figure of Sutan Sjahrir (played with a fascinating depth by Tanta Ginting), who was also an intellectual figure. Sjahrir was portrayed to be completely on board with their vision of an independent Indonesia but refusing to collaborate with the Japanese. Interestingly, Soekarno and Hatta did not seem to disregard Sjahrir’s attitude towards Indonesia, and vice versa. In this film, Sjahrir is viewed as a lonely revolutionary figure – while he possesses an extensive intellect, he is seen as somewhat distant to the political revolution in his motherland.

    Meanwhile, Soekarno’s charisma is developed through his numerous and galvanising speeches, beginning from his speech in front of the colonial justice building – well-known for its defense titled Indonesia Menggugat (Indonesia Accuses). Although Soekarno’s speech enthused many, in this film, it lacked the compulsion for the audience to be galvanised into action. Rather than compelling, the speeches portrayed in the film felt only verbal as they were not balanced by Ario Bayu’s charisma, who portrayed Soekarno. Moreover, Soekarno’s speeches possessed a nearly uniform style: encumbered with a passionate rage. Consequently, it is as if the audience is offered the figure of a Soekarno as a lone agitator, albeit with the absence of vision. 

    Through the fast-paced editing style of the film, it appears as if the film is reluctant to flaunt the detailed artistic work done by Allan Sebastian. Unfortunately, while the camera zoomed in to the plethora of banners and posters displayed by the public, the props and setting came across as ‘new’ and written with uniform letterings. While costume designer Retno Ratih Damayanti seemingly toiled to offer 40s era fashion, the costumes worn by the actors appeared loose fitting. Meanwhile, the soundtrack accompanying the film, composed by Tya Subiakto, was rather boisterous, leaving the film devoid of contemplative moments with minimal to no music. Furthermore, the music and song played during the film credits appeared discordant, thus, running against and as such, nearly ruining the entire mood of the film. 

Overall, Soekarno is merely a singular cinematic interpretation on the multifaceted figure responsible for the independence of Indonesia. His public persona etched on the masses clearly offered multiple interpretations; and Hanung has endeavoured and attempted to interpret and portray the multifaceted aspect of Soekarno. Yet, it must be noted that further cinematic interpretations of Soekarno is still needed.  


Originally written in Bahasa Indonesia/ Translated by Alma Delia Sukma

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