Acclaimed British director, Roland Joffe is currently in Indonesia scouting locations in which to shoot a TV mini series. The fact-based historical series will focus on Mata Hari, the Dutch woman, who was known for her exotic dance routine, notorious lifestyle, and who was executed as a spy a century ago.
The series is conceived as a 6-part mini series that would chronicle her journey from poverty in The Netherlands, a period of self-discovery in Indonesia, and the infamy that followed after her return to Europe.
Production cost is pitched at $3-5 million per episode, depending on cast and location choices. “The project is in its early stages. But we have a screenplay and a ‘production Bible’,” Joffe told Variety. “One way to do it would be to attach some initial Indonesian finance, before taking it to possible European co-producers, and an American global platform.”
Joffe previously took on Asian subject matter in “The Killing Fields,” which won three Oscars in 1985. Two years later his South American-set drama “The Mission” won the Palme d’Or in Cannes.
“It is a very international story, and one that is interesting to the #Metoo generation in that it is a woman’s back story,” Joffe said. “It deals with the outbreak of the First World War, what WWI was really about, and how Mata Hari knew more about it than most people, which was why she was considered, as a spy.”
After her financial needs forced Mata Hari to marry a Dutch Army captain, she moved to Indonesia. There she established a close female companionship and learned the traditional folk dance that she replicated after fleeing to Europe. Her dance routine was originally performed at the Guimet Museum in Paris and often involved her stripping down to just a bra and jewels. Its popularity allowed Mata Hari to mix with an international cosmopolitan crowd, which was her later downfall. Whether she spied for Germany remains moot, despite the 2017 release of previously classified documents.
“That the dance was salacious was certainly the perception. But the way that a dance is perceived may have nothing to do with the intentions behind it. In fact, it was originally presented as a cultural exposition. There was an undoubted sensuality to it, and Mata Hari herself was fascinated by the whole female deity idea,” said Joffe.
“My version of the story goes into two things: what she was doing, and why it was taken by men, and seen as something it wasn’t. Mata Hari was a very smart woman. But I think she was not a spy,” said Joffe. “She was proud to be a courtesan. And was not too proud to be described as a harlot, if necessary.”
Joffe was recently the guest of honor at the Bali International Film Festival, which showed a retrospective of his movies including “The Killing Field,” “The Mission” and “Vatel.” The Balinale lineup also included Joffe’s most recent feature, “The Forgiven,” which stars Forest Whitaker and Eric Bana in a challenging drama about race, misplaced love, and the workings of South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission.