A Safe Flight – Cadet 1947

Fikri Jermadi straps in for a contextual look at Aldo Swastia and Rahabi Mandra’s film.

It may seem obvious, but two ways to better analyse ‘Cadet 1947’ and its contexts lie in the title itself. Directed by Aldo Swastia and Rahabi Mandra, it tells the story of Indonesians fighting against the Dutch in the period following its declaration of independence in 1945. Back then, as the Japanese withdrew following their surrender at the end of the Second World War, Indonesia took the opportunity to literally and figuratively plant its flag on its own hill.

Displeased with this attempt, the Dutch and the British (who were previous colonial overlords of significant parts of what we now call Indonesia) would refuse to accept this, catalysing another conflict to claim control of the country. While the British would fall by the wayside, the Netherlands took another approach, ‘negotiating’ in the Linggarjati Agreement for a peaceful resolution. Cutting a long story short, that would also end up in the ether, as different interpretations led to open warfare between both sides.

Into this mixer comes a group of young Indonesian fighter pilots in training. With the Dutch having greater experience and skillset of air combat, the success and development of Indonesia’s pilots is key to the nation’s independence. We follow Sigit (Bisma Karisma), Mul (Kevin Julio), Har (Omara Esteghlal) and Adji (Marthino Lio), young trainees striving to reach the upper echelons of their division at Maguwo.

However, they are also beset with their own personal problems, to go along with their professional tribulations. Sigit, for instance, is at times beset by worry for his fiancée, Asih (Givina Lukita), especially when the Dutch would make inroads. Additionally, their ‘lowly’ ranks as trainees (rendering them unable to even carry basic weapons) keeps them mired in the lower rungs of the pilot ladder, forced into initially more subservient roles by a variety of different personalities and factors.

On that note, and coming back to the opening paragraph, the first context worth bearing in mind is the term ‘cadet’ itself. Often associated with a military officer in training, I find it interesting that the film’s release would find relatively close proximity to two other military films of the same ilk, as three of them within about ten months or so is relatively rare.

While ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is one obvious candidate, close to home is Malaysia’s own ‘Air Force the Movie: Selagi Bernyawa’. Directed by Zulkarnain Azhar and Frank See, it is also intended to induce a form of patriotism in its audience. The film is a box office success, and also gained a visual effects award at the recent Festival Filem Malaysia, marking a decent return of the genre since ‘Wira Angkasa’ in 1987.

The point I am making is that this marks a rise in the currency of nationalism as a narrative factor. Though it’s not an original story, it is certainly obvious in ‘Cadet 1947’, with Wawan I. Wibowo;s editing being effective at joining up the pieces of the patriotic puzzle. This can be seen when the Indonesian pilots are launching an attack against the enemy, through a montage stitching together the different characters, scenarios and the film’s theme song (‘Bakti’ by Anneth) into a rousing crescendo.

That helps when the enemy are portrayed as little more than chess pieces to be removed from the board, two-dimensional caricatures with little by way of significant screen time. In fact, the most obvious antagonist is a Dutch fighter plane by the name of Congor Merah; we know nothing of its pilot, but that plane itself resonates in a similar fashion to the German’s own Red Baron in the First World War.

This is not a surprise, given the Indonesian Air Force’s involvement in the film, notably highlighted within the opening credits itself. I am actually happy with this transparency, as it is a common practice for many films across the world (including ‘Top Gun: Maverick’). In fact, it was planned as a celebration of Indonesia’s 75th year of independence in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic put paid to such hopes.

The second way to better understand the film is the year 1947 itself. As mentioned above, it is a few years removed from Indonesia’s declaration of independence a few years ago, and the Dutch reluctance to accede to that meant that, in this context, this timeframe is a grey area regarded as black and white by the different sides.

For the Dutch, they had foreseen a return to the throne as the rightful rulers of the country after the Second World War. Of course, the Indonesians had other ideas, as they are no longer willing to remain subjugated subjects after centuries of colonial oppression. This is what begets Bersiap, a movement of mass violence against their former colonial overlords and its allies.

A few months after this film’s release in December 2021, an exhibition in the Netherlands on this period sparked a furore over the use of the term Bersiap itself; some regard it as a racist movement, while others point to its nationalistic ambitions. This is not something I want to get into (as that’s not what ‘Kadet 1947’ is about), but I am painting this bigger picture here to highlight the strong feelings many still have about this period.

All that points to a cinematic experience best enjoyed by Indonesians. For instance, numerous scenes had needle drops of key historic characters, like the first president Soekarno (Ario Bayu) and the military legend Soedirman (Indra Pacique); there is also a plane named after Pangeran Diponegoro, another national hero. To the uninitiated, these are just names of airports and major roads, but for those in the know, the revelations hit you differently.

Having said that, as much as I would give great credit to Aldo, Rahabi and gang, some moments don’t land as they should. This can be seen during a significant action sequence; as Wawan cuts back and forth between two parallel plot points, him staying with one delayed the greater gratification for the other. I understand the need to stretch out that narrative tension, but it does feel like a more instant climax would have been more welcome.

All the same, ‘Kadet 1947’ remains an enjoyable Friday night flick. Though you may get more out of it if you hold a green-coloured passport, it flies a safe course charted by many before it, making it easy enough to appreciate if you are already familiar with the genre. Credit where it’s due, and it’s due.

We checked in with Aldo Swastia in episode 56 of the podcast, about the delay of making the film due to the pandemic, and published an interview with him in 2016.

Featured image credit: Jooinn


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