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aka - Guerra Da Beatriz, A
East Timor 2013
Directed by
Bety Reis / Luigi Acquisto
105 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
4 stars

Beatriz's War

Synopsis: Married to Tomas at an early age, Beatriz grows up in post Portugese  East Timor now occupied by Indonesian forces. When Tomas disappears during a massacre of all the men in her village, Beatriz and her sister-in-law, Teresa, survive as best they can, rebelling against the Indonesians in their own way. Sixteen years later, as the small country celebrates its independence, Tomas returns. But is it really him? Or is the man proclaiming to be Beatriz’s husband an imposter?

It’s probably fitting that East Timor’s first feature film tells the story of that small country’s struggle to achieve independence from the oppressive Indonesian regime. But this is not simply a political history. It’s a love story, based on a real life 17th century incident that has had many artistic incarnations, notably in Daniel Vigne’s 1982 film, The Return Of Martin Guerre.

At eleven years of age, Beatriz is to be married to Tomas whom we meet as a frightened young boy who cries over the failure of his rooster in a cock-fight. The men of the village laugh at him but Beatriz thinks he is the most beautiful boy she has ever seen. Part of the strength of this story is how well Tomas’ cowardice is handled, portrayed first by Eugenio Soares and later by José Da Costa. Even in the face of the rape of his wife, he is paralysed by fear, yet Beatriz (Sandra Da Costa then Irim Tolentino), remains faithfully and forgivingly in love with him. After the massacre, everyone assumes Tomas to be dead but Beatriz refuses to believe it.

Despite the terrible violence and upheaval throughout this story, A Guerra Da Beatriz remains a simply told, honest and moving tale that relies on the power of the events, the beauty of the country and the strength of the performances of its excellent cast. Very often the most bloody scenes happen off-screen and the enormity of what takes place over these twenty-four years from 1975 to 1999 is distilled into a handful of characters.  In addition to Beatriz and Tomas, we see this story through the eyes of Tomas’ sister Teresa (Augusta Soares), the sadistic Indonesian Captain Sumitro (Gaspar Sarmento) and the village priest, Father Nicolau (Osme Gonçalves) who in his efforts to advocate for the Timorese  represents the contrast between Christianity  and the more superstitious traditional customs and beliefs.

Perhaps some of the authenticity of this film comes from the grass roots nature of its production. Many of the filmmakers fought with the resistance during the period portrayed and a number of the cast double in production roles including co-producer José Da Costa, line producer Gaspar Sarmento and most notably, Osme Gonçalves who together with Danny Da Silva Lopes and Jamie Saxe is responsible for the moving soundtrack laced with quite evocative traditional songs.

For a local audience, there are a number of chastening moments when Australia is depicted as idly standing by whilst these terrible things happened so close to our northern shores. This is highlighted through the symbolism of an Australian medal awarded to Tomas and Teresa’s father during the Second World War which is simultaneously honoured for what it means to the family and reviled by those who see it as worthless.

Although the film drags a little after Tomas’ return, Tolentino’s magnetic, passionate performance carries us through to the end. For a country just setting out on the adventure of a new film industry, A Geurra Da Beatriz delivers a powerful first step on that journey. How exciting it is to think about what other stories are now waiting to be told.




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