Press "Enter" to skip to content

Film Review of Eksil (2022): the stories of the Indonesian exiles


Di sana tempat lahir beta                                                                               Dibuai, dibesarkan bunda                                                                             Tempat berlindung di hari tua                                                                       Sampai akhir menutup mata                                                                                    -Ismail Marzuki

The refrain of Ismail Marzuki’s Indonesia Pusaka is embedded into the minds and mouths of perhaps every Indonesian, an endearing patriotic song that immediately fills one’s mind with memories of home. Yet, listen to that very same refrain when being sung during the funeral of an Indonesian exile who spent decades being banished from his home country and those feelings of endearment would quickly turn to sorrow. Such is one of the scenes you would witness watching Lola Amaria’s new production, Eksil, a documentary covering the story of Indonesian students who were exiled and unable to return to their home country following the events of the 30th September Movement in 1965.
After Soeharto ousted President Soekarno and seized power over the presidential seat, his regime launched a nationwide purge on anyone associated with the PKI, resulting in a massacre of not just alleged PKI members, but trade unionists, ethnic Chinese, atheists, and anyone who could even be remotely considered to harbor communist sentiment. Following this, the Provisional People’s Consultative Assembly (MPRS) issued a resolution that banned the PKI, as well as outlawing any act of spreading communist or Marxist-Leninist ideology.

What’s perhaps lesser known however among these efforts from the New Order to rid Indonesia of communism is their treatment of students studying abroad that were associated with the PKI. Those who were accused of being PKI sympathizers were stripped of their citizenship and passports, preventing them from returning back to their home country. This essentially left these students as stateless and stranded in their host country, with no conceivable way of returning to Indonesia without fear of receiving government persecution the moment they land in the country. What’s worse is that due to the heavy presence of the government and especially the military in daily Indonesian life during the New Order, in addition to the marked anti-communist sentiment held by the regime, these exiles even feared sending letters to their families at home, as their family members could be accused of being communist sympathizers as well, simply for trying to communicate with their disenfranchised relatives.

One of the exiles, Asahan Aidit explaining their fate as exiles that was suddenly forced upon them. (Source: Eksil (the Exile) Official Trailer, Lola Amaria Production)

These are the stories that Amaria’s directorial documentary debut intends to shed light on. However, the movie does not attempt to cover these stories through a comprehensive takedown on all the policies enacted by the government that concerned these Indonesian students studying abroad, but rather it takes on a much more human tone in its style of storytelling. The film centers on the stories of 10 individuals: Hartoni Ubes, I Gede Arka, Tom Iljas, Waruno Mahdi, Asahan Aidit, Chalik Hamid, Djumaini Kartaprawira, Kuslan Budiman, Sardjio Mintardjo, and Sarmadji, all of them students who studied abroad and were unable to return home due to having their passports stripped by the New Order.
It is through the life experiences narrated by these 10 exiles that we truly get to see the impact of these policies; a man who willingly let his wife get married to his best friend as so his wife would not have to take care of their newborn daughter on her own; a man brought down to his knees upon learning that his parents had passed away months ago and he didn’t even have the chance to see them buried; a man who after decades of banishment finally returned to Indonesia following the fall of the New Order, but was met by his own family forcing him to leave their home for fear of their own safety. These are just some of the stories recounted in the film that truly show the harrowing feelings that these exiles had to endure for nearly half a century, forced to contend with a life where they may never be able to see their homeland once more.

Another one of the exiles, Djumaini Kartaprawira recounting the pain he felt when he found out his parents had passed away yet he could not attend the funeral (Source: Eksil (the Exile) Official Trailer, Lola Amaria Production)

Despite the mistreatment they receive from the government it’s astounding to see how these individuals, even as they spend decades in countries far from their home; living, working, and making families of their own while abroad, that they still maintain an immense sense of belonging to Indonesia. Some cling desperately to their citizenship instead of being a naturalized citizen of the country they now reside in, others plant flora that remind them of their homeland, some house Indonesian students living in the Netherlands as to make them feel at home while far away from home, while another tirelessly records and archives books and documents on the violations committed by the government during Soeharto’s takeover from 1965-66 as well as books that were banned during the subsequent regime.
Though the excerpt of Hamid’s poem narrated in the opening of the film unfortunately rings true: “kuburan kami ada dimana-mana, kuburan kami berserakan di mana-mana, di berbagai negeri, di berbagai benua” (our graves are everywhere, our graves are scattered everywhere, throughout many countries, throughout many continents), it is perhaps equally endearing and infuriating that as these students, turned to old men with graying hairs, and eventually turn to the departed, that as they are lowered into their graves in foreign lands, their hearts still long for Indonesia; a country that so unjustly failed them both in life and in death.

Tulisan : Ektada Bilhadi Mohamad

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Mission News Theme by Compete Themes.