I attended a pre-release screening of Balibo last Sunday at the Luna (thanks to ScreenWest and Tony Bective), followed by an absorbing Q&A session with the director, Robert Connolly, and Damon Gameau, the actor who played Greg Shackleton – one of the Aussie journos known as the ‘Balibo Five’, gunned down in cold blood by the Indonesian military during their invasion of East Timor in 1975.
Quite simply, Balibo is terrific.
Robert Connolly has created a marvelous movie that succeeds brilliantly in its own right, while working in the cause of prosecuting as war criminals members of the Indonesian military responsible for the Balibo Five murders. Connolly has done more with this movie to force the killers to justice than any Australian government, and that is a withering indictment on both major political parties.
A coronial inquiry in late 2007 established that the five journos were, indeed, executed by members of the Indonesian military, who were identified by name. Rudd made noises coming into the last election that brought his party to government that the ALP would urge Indonesia to follow up the coronial findings…but you wouldn’t expect this lily-livered populist prick to take a stand when predecessors of the ilk of Whitlam, Hawke and Keating weren’t up to it, would you? Fraser and Howard, also, were content to go along with the Indonesian fantasy that the journos were “caught in crossfire”. Shame on the lot of them.
Someone said long ago that it is impossible to care about millions of people, that our humanity extends only to a few. And that is largely true, I think. Connolly’s great feat with Balibo is to transcend this limitation on our sympathies. Yes, he has set the movie around the Balibo Five executions, and in so doing, has ensured massive Australian interest in his movie, but he has somehow managed to engage his audience emotionally in a gruesome and tragic drama of far greater scale – the story of an entire fledgling nation savaged unmercifully at the hands of a brutal invader.
We feel for the Five, and we feel for the central character, Roger East, a journalist who went to East Timor to investigate the deaths of the Five and was also executed by the Indonesian forces. But most of all, against all probability, we ache and mourn for the suffering of the East Timorese people, so horribly violated by their ruthless invaders. The emotional response to which I refer is primal, visceral somehow. It stayed with me long after I left the theatre. In fact, it is with me still.
I could analyse the devices Connolly uses to achieve this remarkable end, but I won’t. Not enough readers give a stuff.
I will say though, in parting, that Anthony LaPaglia’s performance as the cynical, hard-bitten and world-weary journo Roger East who, despite himself, finds East Timor and its people getting under his skin, is something to behold. This must rank with Eric Bana’s portrayal of Chopper as the greatest of contemporary Australian acting performances. Ah fuck it: it’s up with any performance of any actor anywhere. So there.
Forget about star ratings and all that shit. This is as important as any movie ever gets. It’s a oncer. It’s special. Just fucking see it.
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