Based on her letters (published in English as Letters of a Javanese Princess), memoirs of other people and a biography, this fascinating film tells the story of Javanese women's emancipationist Kartini, who founded schools for women in North Central Java at the end of the 19th century. The film's structure preserves the two levels of Kartini's life: on the one hand, her thwarted and brief public life; on the other, her letters, which were to have an important subsequent influence on the women's movement in Indonesia.
Written and directed by the late Sjuman Djaya, who, until his death in 1985, was one of Indonesia's leading directors, Raden Ajeng Kartini is impressive in its recreation of the social and cultural context - the family life of the Javanese aristocracy, with its rigid hierarchies and gender discrimination; the ambitions of the Dutch colonial administrators, and their exploitation of Javanese agriculture under the forced labour system. But the film is most remarkable for its sustained attempt (unusual in a male director, but characteristic of Sjuman Djaya's later work) to film Kartini's life from her point of view.
The dialogue of the film is in three languages -Indonesian, Javanese and Dutch - in accordance with the director's belief in preserving linguistic differences. As a result, it needed partial subtitling even in Indonesia.
Shot in Cinemascope and colour at the actual locations where Kartini lived, the film uses a sepia filter to create period atmosphere, and is always striking to look at.
We are proud to present the first screening of this film outside Indonesia, and grateful to its producer, Harris Lasmana, and to the Indonesian Department of Information for providing us with this new print, especially struck and subtitled for its screening at the Melbourne Film Festival.