Quick Thoughts: Beatriz’s War (A Guerra da Beatriz, 2013)
Made by Luigi Acquisto and Bety Reis, this is the East Timorese film of the series.
Beatriz’s War is East Timor’s (or Timor-Leste’s) first full-length narrative film. Impressive in scope and competently pulled together, this is a striking historical epic of sorts which dramatises East Timor’s violent colonial history before bringing a more subdued drama to screen. In such, this is a film of two halves that is deeply interwoven into the cultural history of Timor.
The first half of this narrative follows Beatriz, a young girl who marries to unite the families of two kings. This marriage occurs as Indonesian colonial forces invade the country – which would have occurred little over a week after the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975 (which it had been a colony of since the 16th century). The young Beatriz and Tomas, a cowardly, frail boy, grow together under constant threat of battle and violence as she carries their unborn child until their village attempts to revolt against the Indonesians. This eventually leads of a massacre and Tomas being separated from Beatriz. The community recovers, bearing children and living alongside the colonial military until the country is given a chance to vote for independence, which itself leads to violence, murder and the mass movement of Timorese people out of their country.
The first half of this story is then a constant fight for unity and strength under a national identity. This fight rests heavily on our protagonist’s shoulders, leaving her a broken hero, tested to her very limits. And it’s this first half of the narrative that works best. Whilst it is somewhat lacking in verisimilitude and doesn’t embody a strong sense realism that makes the high drama visceral and affecting, this former half is a clear and striking cry against colonialism and exploitation, one that presents the suffering that it inflicts upon people in such a way that the concept become ever more absurd and malevolent. As we move into the second half, we’ll stumble upon some…
The latter section of Beatriz’s War shifts gears, slows down and concentrates on aesthetics and character. In such, the technical achievements of this film – those concerning cinematography and direction – showcase themselves as its here where this film finds its most expressive and beautiful sequences. As the anti-colonial cry of this narrative dies down, however, the narrative shifts into new drama based on the true story of Martin Guerre.
Guerre, in 16th century France, was a peasant that left his family, disappearing for many years before one day returning. Though he seemed to have changed greatly, his family accepted him and he lived among them for 3 years. However, he was eventually found out to be an impostor and so was executed by the townspeople. Almost in direct parallel to this much-revived story, the latter half of Beatriz’s War sees ‘Tomas’, Beatriz’s lost husband make a return. In such, this narrative retains themes of unity, deception and invasion, but concentrates not on a loyalty to ones own national identity, but on a personal sense of family and community. As a result, the latter half of this film seems to dramatise the continuing struggle of the Timorese people who, ten years after their independence was gained and this film was made, would still be living in the shadow of their incredibly long colonial history.
A strong allegory about sovereignty at multiple levels of its manifestation (nation and personal), Beatriz’s War is a powerful ‘first’ from East Timor. Though this is imperfect and doesn’t manage to successfully make steps into genuine verisimilitude, emotion and drama, this is an impressive film and certainly worth the watch.
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