Review Grandchildren of the East
Director: Daan van Citters and Joenoes Polnaija | Script: Renko Douze | Cast: Daan van Citters, Joenoes Polnaija, ea | Time to play: 74 minutes | Year: 2023
How much empathy do you need to understand the history of a previous generation? In grandchildren of the east just ask Daan van Citters and Joenoes Polnaija, both of whom appear in the much-discussed war drama The East by Jim Taihuttu, loaded with questions about their grandparents’ military service. The couple’s deep involvement makes for an honest and urgent documentary, but it also makes it harder to see their story through a larger frame..
Without The East was the conversation about grandchildren of the east never started. On the set of the war film, Van Citters and Polnaija, as soldiers on the Dutch side, “literally ended up in their grandfather’s war,” they say in the documentary that began there. In significant locations in the former ‘Dutch East Indies’ (a name that cannot be separated from its colonial past), the filmmaker and actor talk about their ancestors’ military service and process the mixed feelings that this personal story evokes. .
A shared history, a shared desire to understand better; At first glance, Van Citters and Polnaija have a lot in common. However, there is one important nuance that clearly emerges at various points in the documentary: where Van Citters’ grandfather traveled from the Netherlands to the archipelago, Polnaija’s two Moluccan grandfathers were recruited from the island environment where they grew up. After the so-called Indonesian War of Independence, Van Citters’ grandfather was able to freely return to the Netherlands, while many Moluccans became part of an involuntary ‘demobilization’ (we call it ‘hostage-taking’) and they were ‘included’ in Dutch society as a minority.
The strong and sincere bond between the two main characters ensures that this difference in mutual conversations never leads to unresolvable tensions. Polnaija questions Van Citters: how come he can talk openly about a lot of things, but he seems to have cramps when it comes to colonial history? The filmmaker admits that he is ashamed, which brings us directly to the core of the documentary: when it comes to perpetrators and victims, the current and charged question is ultimately whether the current generation can be held responsible for the actions of the perpetrators. ancestors.
It’s understandable that the main characters speak from their own experiences and emotions, but as a result the film lacks a broader historical and social framework that allows us to put their story into perspective. The East It’s an intense and well-acted war movie, but in the Netherlands there was (particularly, but not only) criticism from the veterans’ corner of the portrayal of elite troops committing war crimes.
Considering that tension over the representation of the past, it is not only unfortunate, but also an oversight that Van Citters and Polnaija share their experiences in The East without further context. As they put it now, it seems as if they actually considered the film as a primary source, while being mindful of the complex discussions of representation and reality.
He had additional historical explanations and additional conversations with people in the archipelago. grandchildren of the east to give that bit of context that also makes the film compelling as a political document. Last year’s premiere in the Netherlands demonstrated the additional relevance that a documentary can still give. Dear Mr. Bouterse (about the December murders), which also focuses on the experience and memory of later generations.
With this film, Ananta Khemradj demonstrated that it is possible to allow different ‘parts’ to express their opinion and at the same time leave room for a personal processing process. In a weird group chat grandchildren of the east suggests that talking about those involved and the descendants of the archipelago simply needs time: when talking about the oppression of the Moluccas, the camera looks away again, because it is not completely safe for these young people to express themselves. It is to be expected that in the near future there will be less and less silence.