Director Robert Connolly
Released August 13, 2009
Balibo is a gritty political thriller, based on a hardly spoken international incident which held strong repercussions in Australia, and is sure to hit a raw nerve upon its release.
Based on true events set during Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of East Timor, Balibo depicts the final days of five Australian journalists who were murdered by Indonesian forces while covering the impending invasion.
Investigating their disappearance was former foreign war correspondent Roger East (Anthony La Paglia), who was brought to East Timor at the urging of then Foreign Minister José Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac).
Once in East Timor, director Robert Connolly (The Bank) has his twosome follow the trail of the missing journalists, talking to witnesses while dodging bullets in their quest for the truth. This leads to many confrontational scenes, with particular mention when the pair stumble upon a field littered with decaying bodies.
La Paglia has always delivered his best work upon home soil, and Balibo is no exception, with his Roger East an equally authoritative and sensitive figure, swaying from brutish anger to crippling fragility.
Equally impressive are the actors who portray the Balibo Five. Connolly’s cat-and-mouse approach to the slaying of these men, coupled with the fine reactions given by the actors portraying them, culminates in a blood curling, gut wrenching, and violently blunt sequence, which will anger many.
That such an important piece of modern history is new to so many, and hardly mentioned by those in the know, speaks volumes on the weight of silence given to these events.
This comes to Balibo’s main theme: accountability. Connolly unashamedly places both the Indonesian and Australian governments in a bad light for their actions – or in the latter’s case, inaction – for the atrocities committed during this time. Hopefully the controversy generated by his film will finally generate a public acknowledgement and apology from those responsible.
Released August 13, 2009
“I just want everyone to learn from what has happened.”
The term ‘illegal alien’ takes on a whole new meaning in Neill Blomkamp’s District 9. Indeed the writer/director’s feature debut is a provocative parable of segregationist South Africa, which should also resonate a little too close for comfort with refugee politics across the Western world.
Expanding upon his low-budget mockumentary Alive in Jo’burg, Blomkamp unveils a near-future Johannesburg, over which an enormous, extra-terrestrial vessel ominously hovers; its inhabitants penned into the slum of District 9 for some 20 years. With containment, escalating violence and public exasperation now pressing issues, private contracting firm Multi-National United (MNU) moves in to clear the ‘prawns’ out.
Sprightly bureaucrat Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) heads the eviction team, while also taking along a corporate video crew to record proceedings. Wikus’ jocular introduction and earnest antics are warmly reminiscent of The Office’s David Brent, however when the eviction goes awry, Shaun of the Dead by way of Aliens and Iron Man spring to mind.
Of course the roles are thoroughly reversed on the hapless Wikus, and Copley switches gears with convincing fallibility. Indeed Copley does an outstanding job shouldering this film, with the aid of Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell’s incisive characterisation; they effectively reframe the ‘unlikely hero’ within this xenophobic dystopia.
Trent Opaloch’s dynamic cinematography visually crafts District 9. An ingenious blend of mockumentary, CCTV, and archival news footage, Opaloch and editor Julian Clarke achieve a fine balance in their treatment of the fourth wall. The mind-blowing action (pun intended) certainly benefits from this documentary aesthetic, the filmmakers entirely unafraid of getting their lenses dirty.
District 9 is an absolutely cracking cinematic experience. Peter Jackson may be presenting this film, but patrons are unlikely to forget Blomkamp’s explosive debut.