May 30, 2024 Last Updated 8:34 AM, May 27, 2024

Two Sumatran films

Published: Sep 30, 2007

Reviewed by DAVID HANAN.

The Tiger from Tjampa

Filmed largely on location in 1953 in villages in West Sumatra (the region of the matrilineal Minangkabau people) Djayakusuma's The Tiger from Tjampa is still highly regarded today in Indonesia as an early fine portrayal in a fiction film of aspects of a traditional regional culture.

Set in the 1930s, and narrated like a ballad from the past, The Tiger from Tjampa tells how a young man, Lukman, seeks to avenge his father's murder by learning pencak silat, a traditional form of self defence, based on the movements of animals. The pencak silat seen in the film is regionally specific to West Sumatra. Silat in many other Indonesian films is often mixed with the kung fu of Hong Kong cinema.

This subtly developing drama is exceptional in its evocation of a unique milieu. Almost everything in the film, except the main actors, is from West Sumatra. All the film's quite varied music is from West Sumatra, and so are its dances. In its dialogue the film strikingly uses 'peribahasa' - maxims and proverbs handed down for generations within the oral culture - with their characteristic lilting Minangkabau rhythms. As well, the film displays the intense spirit of community that underlies educational practises in an oral culture.

The Tiger from Tjampa is an excellent film with which to begin to see something of how Islam is practised in Indonesia. It is regarded as an Indonesian classic: one of the 'purest' attempts to represent a traditional regional culture, without the admixture of traditions from other areas or from abroad.

Indonesian title: Harimau Tjampa
Year of production: 1953
Director: D. Djayakusuma
Producer: D. Djayakusuma
Screenplay: Alwi Dahlan
Cinematography: Max Tera
Editing: Sumardjono
Production Design: Ali Akbar
Sound: E. Sambas
Cast: Bambang Hermanto, Nurnaningsih, Titi Savitri, Raden Ismail
Production company/ World sales: Perfini
Print source: Sinematek Indonesia
National Library format: VHS video/Black and white/89 min; Booking no. A12066761.

Pioneers of Freedom

Filmed on location among the Minangkabau people in West Sumatra, and set in the 1920s, Pioneers of Freedom was scripted and directed by Asrul Sani, an Islamic intellectual, poet, short story writer and film director, born in West Sumatra. The film was adapted from various writings by the influential Islamic thinker, also of Minangkabau origin, Hamka. In the film, Sani's adaptation makes a woman the mouthpiece of radicalism and resistance.

The central character, Halimah, oppressed by her husband's jealousy and prohibitions on her freedom, seeks help from an outside Islamic reformer, and seeks to define her own role in Islam. In doing so she enters a complex political world, where issues of religious reform and women's rights are connected with anti-colonialism and social revolution. The film traces Halimah's gradual but thorough radicalisation, both as a women's emancipist and as a nationalist agitator. It also outlines the complex array of political forces emerging at the time, including the communist rebellion in West Sumatra in 1927, ruthlessly put down by the Dutch.

The film's positive and progressive attitudes towards women undoubtedly reflects its West Sumatran origins. The Minangkabau society of West Sumatra is noted for an unusual tension between a strong adherence to Islam, and an equally strong adherence to a matrilineal set of customs and inheritance laws.

Pioneers of Freedom is densely scripted and vigorously directed, and is exceptionally detailed in its evocation of local customs, history and colour. This exceptionally fine and progressive Indonesian film was shown abroad in 1981 at the Berlin Film Festival.

Indonesian Title: Para Perintis Kemerdekaan
Year of production: 1980
Director: Asrul Sani
Producer: Andi Azhar
Screenplay: Asrul Sani
Cinematography: Lukman Hakim Nain
Editing: Cassim Abbas
Production design: Djufri Tanissan
Music: Idris Sardi
Cast: Mutiara Sani, Arman Effendi, Carmelia Malik, Marlia Hardi, Cok
Simbara, Asrul Sani
Production company/ World sales: PT Tati and Sons Jaya Film
National Library format: VHS video/Colour/121 min; Booking no. A12033162.

Films may be borrowed by groups and institutions (not by individuals). Contact the Information Officer, National Film & Video Lending Service, National Library of Australia, tel 06-262 1361, fax 02-262 1634.

Excerpted from 'Notes on Indonesian Films available from the Screen Studies Collection', by David Hanan, November 1994, available on the Internet Web site David Hanan teaches film and television at Monash University in Melbourne.

Inside Indonesia 49: Jan-Mar 1997

Latest Articles

Labouring in vain?

May 03, 2024 - HASNA A. FADHILAH

The Labour Party (Partai Buruh) was revived in the wake of opposition to the Omnibus Law on Job Creation, but failure in the 2024 election shows they failed to connect...

Book review: Uncovering Suharto's Cold War


Film review: Inheriting collective memories through 'Eksil'


A documentary embraced by TikTokers is changing how young people understand Indonesia’s past

Indonesians call for climate action through music


Self-education and lived experience of the impacts of climate change, are driving a grassroots environmental movement

Book review: Clive of Indonesia

Apr 05, 2024 - DUNCAN GRAHAM

Subscribe to Inside Indonesia

Receive Inside Indonesia's latest articles and quarterly editions in your inbox.

Bacaan Bumi: Pemikiran Ekologis – sebuah suplemen Inside Indonesia

Lontar Modern Indonesia



A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar.