Tjoet Nya' Dhien was the wife of the Acehnese rebel leader, Teuku Umar; she was also his chief strategist and political mentor. Teuku Umar was killed in battle in February 1899. For eight years after her husband's death, Tjoet Nya' Dhien led a band of Acehnese guerillas in the mountains of Aceh at the tip of North Sumatra. Despite a series of besetting intrigues caused by changing loyalties among Acehnese chiefs, she and her group evaded and harassed Dutch forces sent out to capture them, her charismatic presence and her powers of survival stirring the local people to continue opposition to the Dutch.
This original and compelling film from Indonesia has some very precise themes: the right to survival of indigenous cultures; the role of women, as well as men, in ensuring this; and the historical importance of Islam in the resistance to Western colonialism in Indonesia. Acknowledging the importance of ancestor veneration in Acehnese culture (not incompatible with the Islam practised in Aceh), and of the continuing presence of ancestors, the ancestral voice-over of Tjoet speaks to the film's audience of her struggle, as her band of rebels is forced to go underground and retreat deeper and deeper into the darkness of the tropical forests and mountains — into what, for them, seemed like inevitable historical oblivion. Many of the visuals of the film are based on notorious Dutch photographs from the war in Aceh — a strongly Islamic area of Indonesia which was never fully subjugated by the Dutch.
Leading Indonesian actress Christine Hakim (a guest at the 1985 MFF) plays Tjoet Nya' Dhien, in a remarkable performance which displays the full range of her commitment as an actress, and is assisted by the finely tuned and sensitive collaboration between herself and director Eros Djarot in the making of this film. The unusual strengths and qualities of TjoetNya' Dhien — Eros Djarotfs first film — resulted in it being invited to become, this year, the first Indonesian film ever to be presented in the Critics' Week at Cannes, where it is one of only 10 film's nominated for the Camera D'Or. - (DH)