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Review: Balibo, From Paris with Love, Gone With the Woman and Silent Wedding

By April 8, 2010August 6th, 2010No Comments

Balibo posterIn October 1975, the obscure little Portuguese colony of East Timor was giv­en inde­pend­ence after 400 years of European rule. A mixed Melanesian/Polynesian pop­u­la­tion was sit­ting on rich min­er­al and fossil fuel poten­tial and sur­roun­ded on three sides by the region’s power­house, Indonesia (with Australia to the south). After only nine days of inde­pend­ence, Indonesia invaded in one of the most cyn­ic­al and bru­tal land grabs in mod­ern history.

The Indonesian armed forces, know­ing that an inva­sion was a gross breach of inter­na­tion­al law, wore plain clothes and did everything they could to extin­guish evid­ence and wit­nesses. The most cel­eb­rated vic­tims of the atro­city were the Balibo 5, young Australian tele­vi­sion journ­al­ists who were stran­ded in the bor­der town of Balibo as the inva­sion began. Without the bene­fit of modern-day com­mu­nic­a­tions, they simply dis­ap­peared and the Australian gov­ern­ment, who (along with the US) gave tacit approv­al to the entire hor­rible exercise.

Balibo, the fea­ture film, is the story of the Balibo 5 told through the eyes of former cru­sad­ing journ­al­ist (now on the skids) Roger East, played by Anthony LaPaglia. East arrives in Dili just before the inva­sion (the Balibo 5 dis­ap­peared while the Indonesians were still indul­ging in ter­ri­fy­ing bor­der skir­mishes) and, with the help of Timorese lead­er (now President) José Ramos-Horta he searches for the truth until the Indonesians stop him, too, from telling the world what happened.

The Balibo atro­city, and the Indonesian inva­sion of Timor, gets a suit­ably power­ful cine­mat­ic por­tray­al in Robert Connolly’s excel­lent film and heavy­weight LaPaglia has nev­er been bet­ter as the conscience-stricken hack who becomes the only link to the out­side world. If I had any tiny cri­ti­cism it might be that the film skates around the com­pli­city of the Australian gov­ern­ment in the deaths of the journ­al­ists (there is one brief sug­ges­tion that Australia actu­ally aler­ted the Indonesians to their pres­ence), but for the most part Balibo is essen­tial view­ing – pas­sion­ate and moving.

From Paris With Love posterLuc Besson has made a good liv­ing churn­ing out high energy European B movies (mostly dumb, like The Transporter, occa­sion­ally excel­lent, like Taken) but he must have run out of nap­kins to write From Paris with Love on because it is really very thin indeed. Simpering Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays a US dip­lo­mat in Paris, moon­light­ing for the CIA. He gets a sud­den pro­mo­tion when wild­card secret agent John Travolta comes to town and needs a mind­er. Travolta chews any and all scenery he can get his hands on and is com­pletely out of the con­trol of dir­ect­or Pierre Morel who had bet­ter luck with dis­cip­lined Liam Neeson in Taken last year.

Due to a ward­robe mal­func­tion on my part I had to watch this film through my (pre­scrip­tion) sunglasses. Frankly, I would have pre­ferred some­thing even more opaque, like a shower cur­tain or the wall of the cinema next door while it played a com­pletely dif­fer­ent film.

Gone With the Woman posterGone With the Woman is a deeply unfunny com­edy from Norway about a young man whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of a high-spirited young lady in his life. With the help of some wise old geez­ers at the loc­al sauna he tries to cope with her eccent­ri­cit­ies, incon­sist­en­cies and her deeply annoy­ing, and at the same time, com­pletely unreal­ist­ic, beha­viours. Borderline miso­gyn­ist­ic at best and dir­ec­ted like an expens­ive Heineken tv com­mer­cial spun out to an hour and a half, I have to say it did look quite hand­some on the Paramount’s new hi-def digit­al pro­ject­or (even if they hadn’t bothered to get the ratio exactly right).

Silent Wedding posterI’m not sure what to say about the pecu­li­ar Silent Wedding, a Romanian com­edy set in the 1950s. The bucol­ic rur­al exist­ence of a vil­lage full of “char­ac­ters” is upset when the death of Stalin almost puts a stop to a big vil­lage wed­ding. Instead of can­cel­ling they decide to hold the wed­ding in silence (hence the title) which leads to an amus­ing cent­ral set-piece that Chaplin might have con­struc­ted. My prob­lem was that they were all so bois­ter­ous and noisy (and broad in the act­ing sense) in the first half that I couldn’t wait for them to shut up which I don’t think was the point.

It being Romanian, the com­edy is black­er than pitch and is bookended by a grim, grey mod­ern scene inten­ded to con­trast with the golden sum­mer tones of the main story. I thought it was all a bit heavy-handed to be honest.

My New Year’s res­ol­u­tion is to go to more than one screen­ing at the Film Society this year. I love the Society and its year round com­mit­ment to film art and they have respon­ded to some cri­ti­cism of last year’s pro­gramme with a resur­gence in cel­lu­loid over DVD – not the least of which is a 35mm present­a­tion of Billy Wilder’s time­less clas­sic Some Like It Hot (cour­tesy of the MGM Channel).

There are the usu­al fas­cin­at­ing pro­grammes sup­plied by the French Government and the Goethe Institute from Germany, a series of films from Iran includ­ing the won­der­ful The White Balloon (although no Crimson Gold, my favour­ite Iranian film of the last dec­ade), Tarkovsky’s great mas­ter­piece Stalker plus Astaire and Rogers in Swing Time. I have to wait until November for my per­son­al high­light: Bogart and Bacall togeth­er for the first time in To Have and Have Not, one of the great cel­lu­loid romances and twice the film that Casablanca ever was. “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips togeth­er and blow.” Heaven.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 3 March, 2010.

Added bonus: Here is that fam­ous line delivered by the gor­geous Bacall when she was only 19.