‘Year’ at Last Gets Its Day in Indonesia


It took 18 years, but probably the world’s best-known film about Indonesia finally arrived here this week on the big screen.

“The Year of Living Dangerously,” banned by government censors because of its portrayal of Indonesia’s political upheaval in 1965, played to a sold-out crowd at the Jakarta International Film Festival.

With the movie still unavailable even at video stores, so many people wanted to attend the special showing that dozens sat in the aisles or on the floor of the theater.


“I am curious to see the real Indonesia in 1965,” said Hefliany, a 29-year-old doctor who, like many Indonesians, goes by only one name.

“What I have heard all this time is a history that is dubious,” she added as she waited in line to see the film.

Starring Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver, the movie tells the story of an Australian radio correspondent and a British Embassy worker based here shortly before the overthrow of President Sukarno by Gen. Suharto. Linda Hunt won an Oscar for her portrayal of Billy Kwan, a diminutive Indonesian cameraman who reveres Sukarno, then turns against the leader when the people go hungry.

Although the plot is largely a love story, it illustrates the poverty of Indonesia, the callousness of Sukarno and the ruthlessness of the Suharto takeover, in which about 500,000 people--many of them suspected of being Communists--were killed.

“The Year of Living Dangerously” was the name Sukarno himself gave to 1965. The movie was banned under Suharto, who ruled for more than three decades before being forced from office in 1998.

“I am confused why the film was banned because I think it is only about the life of a foreign journalist working in Indonesia,” said Tita Fauzie, a 31-year-old accountant, after the showing. “Maybe the dirtiness and poverty of Jakarta was the reason.”


Even Tatie Maliyati, the chief of the government Censorship Board, is unsure why the film remains off limits.

Maliyati granted approval for the movie to be shown just seven hours before the screening was scheduled to begin. She lifted the ban for the single showing with the understanding that it would be for a special film festival audience, not the public. As it turned out, the audience was restricted only by the size of the theater.

Some people see parallels between Indonesia in 1965 and 2000, with the country now in the midst of a power struggle between the democratically elected president, Abdurrahman Wahid, and supporters of the ousted dictator, Suharto.

Sugianto, an assistant to the chief of the Censorship Board, acknowledged that he had not seen “The Year of Living Dangerously” but suggested that the volatility of the current political situation was reason enough to keep the ban intact.

“We are afraid with the current situation the movie will influence the people,” he said. “Indonesians like to duplicate what they see.”

The Indonesian government continues to ban a number of films, including “Schindler’s List” because director Steven Spielberg refuses to cut nudity from the movie to comply with censors’ demands. “True Lies” and “The Prince of Egypt” also are banned because of their potential to offend Muslims, who make up about 85% of the country’s population.


One prominent Indonesian who might not appreciate “The Year of Living Dangerously” is Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Sukarno’s daughter. In one scene, the disillusioned Kwan hangs a banner from a hotel that reads: “Sukarno Feed Your People.”

But the movie falls short of making the incendiary political statement many viewers here had expected.

“The movie is very disappointing politically,” said Tino Saroengallo, a 42-year-old filmmaker. “It’s just about the ‘crazy’ Sukarno and poverty. I wonder why it was banned during the Suharto era, because if Suharto allowed the film to be played, it would have been good for him. The movie just vilified Sukarno.”


Sari Sudarsono of The Times’ Jakarta Bureau contributed to this report.