Merah Puhti (Red and White) (2009)





Director:     Yadi Sugandi.

Starring:     Donny Alamsyah (Tomas), Rahayu Saraswati (Senja), Lukman Sardi (Amir), Joe Sims (Sergeant De Graffe), Darius Sinathrya (Marius), David John Watton (Captain Schaeffer), T. Rifnu Wikana (Dayan), Rudy Wowor (Major Van Gaartner).

struggle for independence of Indonesia



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

"On August 17, 1946, two days after the Japanese surrender, the Republic of Indonesia declared its independence.  Then the Dutch, newly liberated from the Nazis, invaded the young republic to restore 300 years of colonial rule.  By 1947 more than 100,000 Dutch soldiers held Indonesia's ports, cities and coastlines.  Now they pressed deep into the mountains and jungles in search of the rebel army."

North Sulawesi.  May 1947.  [North Sulawesi is a province of Indonesia, located on the northern tip of the island of Sulawesi. The province’s capital and largest city is Manado.]  [Sulawesi (formerly known as Celebes) is one of the four Greater Sunda Islands (other three are Borneo, Java and Sumatra), and the world's eleventh-largest island, situated between Borneo and the Maluku Islands.]

The young daughter is getting water down by the stream when she sees Dutch soldiers.  She runs home to tell her family.  Father tells everyone to go into the house.  The Dutch in two jeeps drive up to the house.  Sergeant De Graffe orders the men to burn down the house because the father "lied" about the number of people in his household. Their son Tomas returns from the forest and watches from the jungle as petrol is thrown onto the front porch of the house.  The sergeant now shoots all the members of the family with his pistol.  It looks like the Dutch have learned something from the Nazis after all. 

Tomas heads for the base at Sekolah Tentara Rakjatin, central Java, June 1947. 

Two young women are hanging clothes on the clothes lines.  One of the women is pregnant.  The other woman asks her when is she going to tell Amir about the pregnancy?  The pregnant woman says all Amir is interested in these days is the revolution and the army. 

Amir comes home and says hello to the ladies.  He takes his wife to the side of the house and tells her that he has enlisted as a cadet.  Melati is not happy to hear the news.  Amir explains that this is the beginning of their new country and it's worth fighting for.  Melati says he's a teacher, not a soldier.  She says softly that she thought they were ready to settle down and have children.  She goes into the house.  He follows her saying that he has to do this for his boys, so they will be free men.  She says:  "Or our daughters."  Yes. 

Now he asks her what is it she wanted to tell him?  She says it was nothing.  He kisses her on the forehead. 

The next door neighbor tells her brother Soerono that she thought he wasn't going to join the army after they lost their parents.  Brother says they don't talk about their parents.  He also says that now he's the head of the family.  And joining the Army of the Republic is the best way to keep them both safe.  Friend Marius knocks on their door.  He has a flask of liquor with him.  Soerono warns him that Commander Taufik is one serious Muslim and he's not going to like this if he finds out.  The two men go out to celebrate their last night as civilians. 

Tomas run's into Soerono's friend Marius and the friend wants to make a big deal out of the incident.  He tells Tomas to watch who he runs into.  The two almost start throwing blows, but Soerono intervenes between the two of them. 

Soerono tells his friend that this kind of behavior can get them both kicked out of officers' school.  The friend says officer school is for the sons of the wealthy and powerful, but Soerono says it's for people who can be leaders of men. 

After waiting in line, Tomas Dalamente now registers his vital information with the army.  The army fellow says that Dalamente's name is not on the list, but he can always join the local militia.  An officer comes up and wants to know what's the problem?   He understands that Tomas wants to fight.  The officer says he will let Tomas in, but he had better not disappoint him. 

The red and white flag of Indonesia waves over the school.  The officer goes over the rules.  Soerono and Marius arrive late, so he has the two fellows digging fox holes.  The cadets get their hair cut short. 

Tomas is a Christian.  He hangs his crucifix necklace up before going to the showers.  When he returns the necklace is gone.  Tomas figures Marius had to have been the one who stole the necklace.  So the two get into a fist fight.  The bigger Marius knocks Tomas down.  Tomas gets up and takes Marius down on the floor, but there the fighting stops because the officer comes in.  And he wants to know what's going on in here?  He knows Tomas was in the fight, but he thinks the tall Dayan was the other fighter.  Tomas speaks up to say Dayan was not involved, but the drill instructor cuts him off.  He says that the two men will dig the deepest foxholes in Java!

Outside digging Dayan says that Marius bated Tomas into the fight.  He adds that Tomas is going to have to learn to control his emotions.  To use the anger to his advantage, not to his disadvantage. 

When Tomas comes in for the night Marius again taunts him.  So Tomas asks the city boy why does he hate him so much?  Is he scared of him?  Does he fear that a coolie can be a better officer than he could ever be?  And this time Tomas causes Marius to lose his emotional control and he goes after Tomas.  The rest of the guys, however, are right there to prevent the next fight. 

The next day the cadets go for a long run.  They take rifle training.  The trainers discover the liquor flask like the one owned by Marius.  Suspicion falls on Marius.  His progress record is read aloud:  last in rifle drill,  last in marksmanship, last in physical training!  Tomas steps forward and says the flask is his.  The officer says he might have known it was a Christian who owned the flask.  He tell Tomas to get out of the school.  Marius speaks up in defense of the Christian.  The officer relents and just puts Tomas on digging again.

When Tomas gets back to his bed, the crucifix necklace is there waiting for him. 

The officer makes Soerono his first lieutenant.  He makes Amir his second lieutenant.  The whole unit graduates.  Amir is united with his wife after the graduation.  She is still worried about her husband.  She tells him that the Dutch are massing for  . . .  Amir quiets her, saying that he's not afraid of the Dutch.  Soerono meets up with his sister.  Tomas asks to dance with Soerono's sister.  They start to dance, but Marius cuts in on Tomas pretty quickly.  The dance doesn't last long.  And now a mortar shell drops on the base.  Everyone starts running for cover.  More and more shells explode.  The soldiers go get their weapons.  They start running into the jungle to find the mortars and their operators.

Topan says he bets the Dutch have taken off already.  He walks out ahead of everyone else and gets mowed down.  The fight is now on, but the Indonesian soldiers start retreating.  They take up a new defensive position, but soon have to retreat from that one too.  Dayan tells Soerono that his sister Senja is out walking in the jungle  Soerono takes off in the direction where Senja was last seen.  The Dutch have out-flanked the new officers.  Amir says to tell everyone to fall back to the creek bed.  The older officer arrives and wants to attack the Dutch.  Amir tells him it would be better to fall back to the creek bed.  The officer rejects the suggestion and charges.  Four of the guys, including Amir and Tomas, stay behind.

A soldier with Marius is shot and goes down.  Marius is very scared now and hides behind a tree.  Soerono arrives and shoots a Dutch soldier.  He then tries to get Marius up and going, but Marius is not going anywhere.  Soerono gets shots and goes down.  Mairus runs away.  A Dutch soldier is going to finish off Soerono, but Tomas shoots the Dutchman.  He checks on Soerono who asks about his sister.  And now here comes Senja.  She sees her brother bleeding badly and rushes over to him and Tomas. Soreno knows he's dying.  He says he's sorry to his sister and asks her to forgive him.  He asks Tomas to take care of his sister. 

Marius runs all the back to where Amir is.  Amir doesn't believe Marius when he says that Soerono is dead. 

Tomas has to convince Senja to release her brother's body and get out of here with him.  He tells her that her brother wouldn't want her to die here where he died.  Tomas has to physically force Senja off her brother.  When Tomas and Senja get back with the rest of the survivors, Senja says Marius left her brother all alone to die.  Marius lies and says he stayed with Soerono until he died.

Now Amir says they must reach the Eastern Road and then move south.  Tomas wants to stay and fight, but Amir says they must join the regular army.  They are, however, going to have to fight because here come the Dutch.  The Dutch kill a couple Indonesians, while losing one of their own men.  The Indonesians decide to split up and make their way back to the base and the village. 

Tomas kills two Dutch soldiers alone on a trail.  He then kills a Dutch guard at a weapon's depot.  Tomas grabs a lot of grenades, rifles and a machine gun.  His partner grabs ammunition boxes. 

Dayan tries to get the villagers to leave the village for the mountains, but the people say they won't leave all thier possessions behind for the Dutch to steal.  Amir arrives and tries to get the villagers moving.  He has no luck with them either.  One of the Indonesian soldiers is shot down by an enemy bullet.  The rest of the soldiers decide to get out of there.  Amir wants to get back home before the Dutch get there.  He gets home and finds Melati.  She says she was so worried about him.  A Dutch soldier makes an appearance and shoots his rifle but the shot misses.  Dayan comes up behind the enemy soldier and knifes him.  Now the three of them leave the house together. 

The Dutch gather the local villagers together.  The Dutch leader kills the village head when he says he doesn't know where the Indonesian soldiers went.  The Dutch start shooting the villagers and burning all the houses.  They also engage in raping some of the women. 

The survivors get together.  There are four men and two women.  They decide to encamp for the night.  Amir remembers back to an incident when the Japanese opened fire on a group of civilians on a city street.  His wife sleeps with her head on his lap.

Tomas checks on the sentry Marius.  He scares Marius by being able to walk almost up to him before Marius reacted.  The men exchange words over Marius running away and leaving Soerono behind.  Marius points his weapon at Tomas, but Tomas is there with a knife at Marius' throat.  He tells Marius that he is going to give him what Marius refused to give Soerono:  another chance. 

In the morning, the Muslims have morning prayer.  Amir prays alone.  He asks God to help him properly lead his group to safety.  He then tells Melati to take Senja to Lambongan-Lor.  They should stay at the house of Melati's mother.  He now gets all the soldiers together and says that they have to double back to the village. 

The Indonesian soldiers come back to the village.  Dead bodies lay all around the village.  The houses have been burned.  They find a little boy still alive and then a village man.  The man was working in the fields at the time of the massacre.  They killed his wife. 

Amir wonders why are the Dutch heading south?  Marius looks at the map and says the Dutch are headed for the sea.  They want to use the strategy of divide-and-conquer.  They want to separate all of Western Java from the capital and the rest of the republic.  Now all the guys put their heads together.  They come up with a plan to destroy all petrol refueling supplies headed for the Dutch army.  If the trucks have no petrol, the Dutch won't make it to the sea. 

Now the group of five (with the one villager) checks over their hidden supply of Dutch weapons and ammunition.  They have four rifles, two pistols and a machine gun.  They also have two grenades for each man.

The four soldiers go to the the bridge to wait for the petrol trucks.  Amir positions his men in key places.  The villager brings his seven sons of different ages to the bridge to help. 

Here comes the Dutch caravan with the petrol trucks.  The Dutch have to stop and get the goats off the bridge.  They chase them away.  One of the goat herders places a grenade on the back of a petrol truck and it goes off with a loud explosion.  Now the soldiers and villagers open up on the Dutch soldiers.  Most of the Dutch soldiers in the back of a truck don't even make it out off the truck to fight as they are killed where they sit by the machine gunner.  After killing most of the soldiers, the guns concentrate on the barrels of fuel.  They shoot the barrels and the barrels explode in a massive ball of fire.

The Dutch are completely vanquished.  There are a few Dutch soldiers who are still alive, but not many.  The villager's small son has been shot.  Marius has had two years of medical training and he digs the bullet out of the boy, thus saving the lad's life. 

The Dutch commander is left alive.  By threatening to cut off a Dutchman's head, the commander tells them they were headed for Lambongan-Lor.  The commander and the four soldiers jump in the jeep headed for Lambongan-Lor.  There the two Indonesian women have run into Dutch soldiers. 

"This film is dedicated to the memory of:  First Lieutenant. R. M. Subianto Djojohadikusumo, 21, and Cadet R.M. Sujono Djojohadikusumo, 16, and all the brave heroes who fought and died for a free Indonesia."


Good movie.  The Dutch colonialists were portrayed very negatively in the movie.  The Indonesians were rough, but not committing crimes against humanity.  The acting of the ensemble cast was pretty good.  Learned a bit about Dutch Colonialism and Indonesia, but not a great deal.  Lots of action in the film. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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