BEATRIZ’S WAR (AKA A GUERRA DA BEATRIZ) | MOVIE REVIEW

BEATRIZ’S WAR (aka A GUERRA DA BEATRIZ) is the very first feature film out of East Timor EVER. That in itself is a remarkable feat. It tells their story through a fictionalised tale based on a French film and it does so quite well. It has, unfortunately, finished its limited run in Australia, and I offer abundant apologies for our review delay – there was a communication breakdown and the viewing link got lost. Keep your eye out for this one on DVD. Kernel Andrew reviews and I do offer a small warning – the review is not completely spoiler free – although I do not think a film dealing with powerful topic will be ruined by giving away some of the plot – it is not a Michael Bay film after all, there is more than one layer to the film :). BEATRIZ’S WAR has a superb website you can find out more information about the film from HERE and also a great Facebook Page HERE. It runs for 101mins and is rated M. Enjoy Kernel Andrew’s review…………all the best………….JK.

 

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BEATRIZ’S WAR | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | MOVIE POSTER

 

REVIEW BY ANDREW BRUSENTSEV

BEATRIZ’S WAR has been billed as East Timor’s first feature film. There is sometimes a danger of billing a movie this way. Usually when distributors pull out this sentence there are a lot of reviews that come out that are quite patronising. “Isn’t it great that they had a go?”, “Better luck next time” or reviews that give more stars just because of the fact.

Luckily there is no need with this particular venture. This movie is more than a participation certificate in the film industry. Despite its flaws (and there are flaws) this is a real and important entry into the film cannon.

A lot of the credit belongs to Luigi Acquisto, a man who needs no introduction to the documentary scene. From his Melbourne base he has been quietly making solid movies for some time. The one that is probably the touchstone for this particular venture is East Timor: Birth of a Nation released in 2002. Acquisto co-wrote the script for BEATRIZ’S WAR with Irim Tolentino. Irim Tolentino is probably the most important figure in this movie. She plays the film’s title role, that of Beatriz, and also co-directed with Bety Reis. Reis is a leading figure in East Timor theatre and one of its leading artists. If you have not seen the excellent documentary referenced earlier do so. It is an important documentary about a forgotten and troubling period in our region.

BEATRIZ’S WAR tells the struggles of the East Timor people during the Indonesian occupation but not from a broad vantage point. Rather it tells this tale more personally through the lives of a particular village and its inhabitants.

 

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BEATRIZ’S WAR | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | SUPERB CINEMATOGRAPHY

 

It is not based in fact but is rather a fictionalised account of East Timor’s recent history from 1975 to the mid 2000’s. Some film buffs, especially Francophiles, may notice a very similar plot device to a fantastic French film THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE. This movie in turn was based on a historical case of a 16th-century soldier returning from the war changed beyond recognition

This is taking nothing away from BEATRIZ’S WAR. There are new flavours injected into this particular story-line. We first find Beatriz as a young girl in a village in East Timor’s mountains during the mid-1970s. These are the early years of the Indonesian Occupation. During this period the Portugese colonial masters left. The East Timorese declared independence and subsequently were invaded by Indonesian forces. The young Beatriz (Sandra Da Costa) is married at the age of 11 to Tomas (Eugenio Soares), a boy her own age, and the son of a local village strongman. This alliance will secure the position of Beatriz and her mother. They are themselves descended from an ancient regal bloodline.

These early scenes really are there to paint a picture as after the wedding ceremony we fast forward a few years and find Beatriz now living with the Falantil (East Timorese resistance movement). Her husband Tomas (now played by Raimundo Dos Santos) isn’t really made of the right stuff for a resistance fighter. He is too good natured and placid and has no taste for blood and conflict. He spends his time with the women preparing food rather than in engaging the Indonesian forces.

 

BEATRIZ'S WAR MOVIE REVIEW
BEATRIZ’S WAR | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | BEATRIZ AT WAR

 

Life in the mountains is brutally hard. To add further to the complications Beatriz is heavily pregnant. Rather than continuing this grueling existence she chooses to surrender to the Indonesian forces and live in the occupied village of Kraras. It is here that we are introduced to the film’s main villain, Captain Sumitro (Gaspar Sarmento).

Kraras is a real place, the site of a notorious massacre of Timorese civilians in 1983. What is more disturbing is that the massacre that occurred their happened under the command of Lieutenant-General Prabowo Subianto. Subianto recently has been an Indonesian presidential candidate. It is striking that the film calls him out by name.

The women in the village are subjected to beatings and rape (including Beatriz by the hand of Sumitro). But it is the film’s pivotal scene where the men and young boys are massacred which makes the biggest impact. Beatriz witnesses these killings from a hiding spot and it affects her horribly. Tomas is among those rounded up but is missing among the dead. He has gone missing and is presumed dead.

Beatriz believes Tomas still to be alive but his sister Teresa (Augusta Soares) believes him to be dead. Life in the village settles down and the Indonesian soldiers begin to participate in local village life many taking local women as their mistresses. This is all held together by Beatriz, now the powerful village matriarch. She even insists that Teresa become the mistress of the villainous Sumitro to ensure the survival of the village and the children. This is also to provide cover to the village’s support of the resistance movement.

Life goes like this and the scene shifts by many decades to the period of the Indonesian withdrawal. Families are reunited, men return home. Along with the men a very different-looking Tomas (Jose Da Costa) makes his return appearance to the village. He is welcomed by everyone except his wife Beatriz who does not see her former husband but rather someone else. Who is this man? Who is right? Is it the villagers or Beatriz?

 

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BEATRIZ’S WAR | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | TOMAS (JOSE DA COSTA)

 

The style of the movie does take a lot of getting used to. This is a low budget affair and many of the actors have been enlisted from local villages and actual resistance fighters. There is a difference in the “talent” levels so to speak. Many crucial events occur off-screen so it is important to be familiar at least partially with the history of East Timor. It is not a movie one can just jump into without some familiarity.

There are moments of heavy handed melodrama but this never really crosses the line into genuine clumsiness. Rather perhaps a heavy stroke is used with the obvious symbolism paint brush. But luckily these are very few moments.

What are handled beautifully are the relationships between villagers and the power structures around them. Whether the power relationships at play are based on personal magnetism or this magnetism mixed with ancient rituals and traditions. Power relationships between Indonesians and the Timorese which are more obvious are explored as well. Power based on physical intimidation, brutality, rape and murder. Power tools of oppressive control. It is hard to get away from the messages delivered in the movie. These power metaphors are handled splendidly. We see a nation pulled in two different directions: the past and the future. But this is bound with the geopolitics of the area. Even Australia and its role is not saved from a critical look.

Perhaps what I received from this movie is that the past will always haunt the present. You cannot escape it with looking back on it. Everyone must acknowledge their role in it and the decisions that they made. But that there is hope for a future if we deal with it.

 

3 Pops