Sunday, February 5, 2012

Balibo (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


"Balibo" tells the unfortunately true story of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975 and the resulting massacre. More than 100,000 people were slain, as well as five Austrailan journalists. This film chronicles the abrupt and bloody event as is, and it is not for the sensitive among us. 

Anthony LaPaglia plays Roger East, a foreign correspondent who meets a driven activist Jose Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac) and decides to locate the five missing journalists, now known as "the Balibo Five".

As Roger East, LaPaglia is as rugged and risky as any Spielberg adventurer, but it is important to keep in mind that East is no fiction. At first, it seems as if we are in for a road movie, so fluid is the chemistry between LaPaglia and Isaac. The two characters eat together, philosophize and talk full of pauses. Yet it soon becomes apparent that we are in Herzogian territory where nature looks at man from above with an indifferent lens. Even the camerawork looks scorched like a Polaroid photo burned at the edges. There are no easy explanations as to why the Indonesians attacked. Violence appears both brutal and evasive. 

 "Balibo" is tight and anxious, disturbingly recalling the edgy over-the top melodrama of  "Man on Fire" with its hand held claustrophobic camera. The scenes with LaPaglia are shown in alluring color while the flashback scenes are done in anemic pastels and faded sepia-tones. One senses the melancholy in the mere human motion of walking, deep in vegetation with no path visible. The act of reporting is seen as a waiting game of misinformation with nothing to look at but the stagnant frame of a swimming pool. A shadow on the wall can either summon panic or a spontaneous joke. The seconds are heavy. 

Despite the apprehensiveness of "Balibo", the film  is not with out its buoyancy. The harmony between LaPaglia and Isaac is clearly evident. This kindred spirit together with some easy banter between journalists, give a lightness to what could be all anxiety and woe. Camaraderie  is  one defense against blood.

No country is immune from violence, oppression or invasion. Every continental closet has its own skeletons rattling within.  By the end of "Balibo" a caption informs us that Jose Ramos-Horta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 and independence was achieved in East Timor in 2002. But given the horror of  sudden carnage by the Indonesians this  seems a  mere whisper of retribution, a small attempt to balance human scales.

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