IMITATIO IGNACIO – CONFESSIONS OF A JESUIT PRIEST
In the second half of the last century an impoverished boy from Amsterdam becomes a traumatized Jesuit priest. As a true Rasputin he grows into being one of the most powerful men in postcolonial Indonesia. Driven by his obsessive religious zeal he is the brain behind the blood stained coup of 1965 in Indonesia and its legacy of massacres and terror.
On his deathbed Joop Beek looks in a feverish dream back on his life and the consequences of his actions. A quest for answers to the impossible question of ‘why?’
IMITATIO IGNACIO tells the story of Joop Beek, born in a poor working class neighborhood in pre-war Amsterdam, who becomes a Jesuit priest and eventually stands at the heart of tumultuous changes in post-colonial Indonesia.
IMITATIO IGNACIO is a film about Father Beek, founder of the political movement Golkar in Indonesia, and a close associate of Suharto who transformed into a merciless, corrupt dictator. The priest served as speechwriter for Suharto and shaped OPSUS, Indonesia’s secret service. Father Beek used that organization to implement the so-called ‘Act of Free Choice’ in such a way that West New Guinea (now: West Papua) came to join the Republic of Indonesia – an event that inspires controversy to this day.
It looks at the story of the still shady coup of 1965 in Indonesia, in the year of living dangerously, which brought about the fall of President Sukarno and General Suharto’s rise to power and the hundreds of thousands of deaths that followed.
Joop Beek is a traumatized soul. Traumatized by the death of his father, when Joop was just a boy of twelve and by the solitude of his training as a novitiate with the Jesuits of Semarang, Indonesia. He is finally traumatized by the harsh circumstances of his intern- ment in various Japanese deten- tion camps on Java during WWII. His tortured body and spirit doesn’t collapse. Instead, his hardships lead to his identifica- tion with the role of aggressor in his relationships with other people, whether they are fellow priests or his students.
Joop Beek is a man who, with a sharp eye for spotting the poten- tial future leaders of Indonesia, bends and shapes his students to his will. They cherish their affection for Father Beek, ‘the bald one’, to this very day. Father Joseph Beek S.J. is above all a man of faith, who simply works ‘Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam inque hominum salutem’ – for the greater glory of God and the salvation of mankind. Who, in the traditionofSt.Ignatius,thefound- er of the Jesuit order, fiercely fights the greatest enemy of postcolonial Indonesia – and indeed of the world at large: Communism. His goal justifies all means: ‘It’s them or us’. His source of inspiration is also his weapon: the ‘Spiritual Exercises’ of Ignatius of Loyola.
In the 1970’s, after the extermina- tion – by the frenzied Indonesian masses – of hundreds of thousands of alleged commu- nists, Father Beek shifts his focus of activities. His goal becomes the reduction of the power of Islam and Islamic legislation. But Joop Beek loses that battle.
Tormented and suffering in body and soul, Joop Beek – surrounded by his faithful followers – lays his weary head down in September 1983, in his desolate home in Jakarta. Crying for mercy and for God to “let this cup pass from me” he sinks into a deep and painful coma brought on by the liver disease that has, due to his ordeals and his alcohol abuse, tortured him for years. He is taken to the Carolus Hospital in the center of Jakarta.
That’s where, on Joop Beek’s deathbed, in a piercing white light, IMITATIO IGNACIO begins.
In IMITATIO IGNACIO we look with Joop Beek on his deathbed back on his life as it weighs on him being the brain behind the 1965 coup in Indonesia, leading to his fingers being tainted with the blood of hundreds of thousands of adversaries of dictator Suharto.
In a non-linear structured and partly fictionalized documentary story – a mosaic of fictionalized events of his life and memories of his fellow priests and pupils with (sometimes manipulated) archive material – we relive the key compelling moments of his life: the death of his father when he was only 12, the Great Depression of the 1920’s in The Nether- lands, the menacing approaching war, the isolation of his Jesuit education, the journey to the then Dutch East Indies, his imprisonment by the Japanese occupying forces, the humiliations and horrible tortures in the Japanese prison camps.
After his liberation and ordination as Jesuit priest in Europe, we return with him to the then independent Indonesia. We see how he surrounds himself with a steadily growing group of young catholic Indonesian followers, recruited from all layers of the population. How he moulds his pupils into instruments against the in his eyes the most dangerous enemy of postcolonial Indonesia: Communism.
We find out how he with his ever-growing network of followers may be regarded as the man who was by far the best-informed man of Indonesia in the turbulent 1960’s. And how Joop Beek became crucially important for western secret service organizations such as the CIA, MI5 and ASIS in their undercover operations to support Suharto against the first president of Indonesia Sukarno who was ever further sliding to the left.
We see how the priest by a seemingly endless stream of analyses and lines of action inspired his followers, spread out all over Indonesia, to create unrest and division amongst the Indonesian Islamic masses. We get to know the weapons used by him in that struggle: those of psychological warfare, which was for a major part based on the sexual smear campaign that went with it. It claimed that leftist women are inhumane, perverse and atheistic, creating sexual moral panic amongst the Islamic population of Indonesia.
We understand how in this way he laid the basis for the effective actions of Suharto’s military commandos that went to each and every village to arrest men and youngsters with alleged leftist sympathies and kill them in massive murder orgies. Thousands of women were imprisoned, sexually mutilated, tortured, raped and killed.
We experience his downfall at the end of his life as his influence on Suharto diminishes and he gets into conflict with the highest officials of the Jesuit order in Rome, who threaten him with excommunication from the order and prohibit him to continue to involvement with Indonesian politics,
With the priest we visit Sukarno’s grave, where he – in hardly stoppable stream of tears – begs the latter for forgiveness. The end of the film, as in a requiem mass for Joop Beek, is flame. Not the flames of hell, but those of the purgatory.
Who are we to pass the final judgment?
PREQUEL OF THE ACT OF KILLING AND THE LOOK OF SILENCE
As the result of the successful films of Joshua Oppenheimer, The Act of Killing (2012) and The Look of Silence (2014) the world now knows of the atrocities that took place under the general Suharto regime in Indonesia. The stories of the perpetrators and victims in both films leave nothing unclear.
IMITATIO IGNACIO answers the question as to who was the architect of these atrocities and in which way the perpetrators were brought to their unspeakable deeds. Herewith this film can be considered as the prequel of these earlier films.
The epilogue of Imitatio Ignácio shows the consequences of the actions and deeds of father Joop Beek.
Now, after decades of fearful silence, the victims who survived the nightmare raise their voices, together with the surviving families of those who can’t say nothing no more.
In the eve of the 50th commemo- ration of the 1965 coup, in 2015 they demand with their movement ‘Breaking the Silence’ finally justice in order to be able to pick up their normal life and to – maybe, ever – be able to forgive those that are responsible for their tragic lives.
IMITATIO IGNACIO – CONFESSIONS OF A JESUIT PRIEST
a film by Joop van Wijk
In-Soo Productions & Molenwiek Film (NL)
Peter Krüger, Inti Films (Belgium) Joram ten Brink, Westminster University (UK)
André Singer, Spring Films (UK)
preproduction / financing