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REVIEW: Beatriz’s War

Monday, 14 July, 2014

Luigi Acquisto and Bety Reis’ Beatriz’s War explores the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste over an epic 28-year time span. It follows the journey of Beatriz, a young girl married to the son of a resistance forces leader. While proclaimed as a love story, the story rather outlines the horrible realities of war, the enduring strength of its female characters, and the struggle for Timorese independence.

Irim Tolentino not only makes her film debut as Beatriz, but is also one of the film’s co-writers. Alongside Beatriz’ sister in law Teresea (Augusta Soarez) the film presents two strong female leads. In contrast, male characters are not depicted favorably; Beatriz’ husband, Tomas (Jose Da Costa, Balibo, Answered by Fire) is a gentle man, but is rash and weak. His successor is manipulative and deceitful.

Beatriz is a strong and pragmatic woman, driven by necessity and love for her country. However, she is not a hero by any means, and fails to strike an emotional chord with the audience. Her sister in law, Teresa, is the character with heart, and with whom audiences may feel most affinity.

Beatriz’ War is the first feature film for Timor-Leste’s small film industry, and is an impressive feat, despite being aesthetically lacklustre. The film’s success is evident in the array of awards it has received, most notably Best Film at the International Film Festival of India.

The film is heavy, but not gory, omitting explicit shots of violence. Its realness sets in through its depiction of rape in conflict, very much flouting the conventions of this often taboo subject—here presented as a tool used to inspire fear in a captive population.

Beatriz’ War makes a clear political statement about the delayed involvement of external peacekeepers in the occupation of Timor-Leste. One character explains that to Australians,  “Timor oil tastes better than Timorese blood and tears,”—arguably a realistic portrayal of the dynamic between the two nations. Later on in the piece, Beatriz urges resistance fighters, “if it’s a civil war, they won’t help us. Don’t fight back.”

This is a story told simply and with real emotion, providing a narrative often unheard in popular discourse.

The film opened in Melbourne on July 10 after an astounding season in its home country; it has been seen by over 100,000 Timorese, in a population of 1.2 million, shown on a countrywide tour using an inflatable screen and diesel powered projector.