Peter Weir started off as an ambitious director, but it’s hard to know whether he will ever get as ambitious as when he made a film about a love story set during the sixties 30 November Movement attempted coup in Indonesia with 6 million dollars, a budget that would make any filmmaker jumping aboard a project like this laugh. The great thing is that ambition is what follows this film as a whole. Can you call Linda Hunt’s performance as a male Indonesian good natured photographer ambitious? I suppose you can, but you would have to follow it with genius. Linda Hunt was a New York stage actress, but do we ever question her being a male Indonesian photographer? I bet most people wouldn’t even be able to tell, and that’s the beauty of her performance.
Linda’s performance may be the strongest link in the movie. Somehow, the atmosphere is achieved even with th elow budget. Indonesia does look like a dangerous place, where you are surrounded by people and still, you can feel dangerously alone all the time. You also really geat a feeling of the poverty, and the unstable political situation, with the Communist and the Muslims, an incredibly uncomfortable civil war to be talking about, and probably couldn’t have been told in such a neutral and genuine way had it been made by an American production. A man like Peter Weir can keep his distances. His filmmaking conveys with the character of Guy Hamilton, played by Mel Gibson in possibly his very first important on screen role, and quite possibly the one that made people actually notice him. Just like Hamilton looks for the scoop without paying to much attention to the social and political causes or natures of such scoop, Weir too seems to not want to pay too much attention to the politics through the main character’s eyes. The final walk to the plane says it all. He doesn’t feel sad for the country he is leaving, he is actually glad it’s not his own country, and he can run away. He also is no longer sad about leaving all the stories that he could have written about back there. If he is sad, it’s because of the Indonesian friends that he worked with, and that remained loyal to him, thinks about what will happen to them, or remembers with sadness at what happened to Billy. But what you can mostly see in his face is a suden feeling of relief, and that look forgives the love story for never really taking centre stage, although it was being sold as the main premise of the film from the marketing. But when you think about it, was love at the centre of Gone With the Wind? Anyone who has seen it will have doubts about that, yet people think back at that movie as if it were one of the most romantic ever made.
It doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t take a genius to see that it is Linda Hunt’s performance and character that steals the show. Billy is more than a photographer. He represet the pride of a nation, whether he tries to help a poor mother and her ill child, or whether he pounds the keys on a typewriter as he types over and over ‘we must do something’ as if he were waiting to hear a voice in his head what he should do, and calling him to do something and not wait for somebody else to do it for him. It is his relationship between his collaborator, the good looking young Australian journalist, that seems to be more important and infinitely more interesting than the love story between the journalist and Jill, an assistant in the British embassy. Jill, at some stage, tells Guy that he is whatever Billy would have liked to have been. That, however, does not appear to be the whole story; Billy sees Guy as the one and only hope for the people around the world to hear the truth about whatever is going on in Indonesia. Billy automatically seems to feel as if he can trust Guy Hamilton. It is also because he finally feels he cannot trust him that Billy decides to finally do something drastic himself, because something must be done.
The love story aspect is the one that disappoints the most. The chemistry is slow to start, but it’s easy to see why; we never can tell what kind of a relationship all the characters have with one another (except perhaps the relationship between the journalist and the photographer) because Weir has got a lot to say. This film comes from a novel by Christopher Koch; films with heavy political undertones based on novels tend to always feel cold and distance, so it may be enough that at least we get a chance to feel something for the individual characters, although we don’t get a feeling for their relationships with the other characters.
But it’s great to see this movie avoid the pitfalls that others were not able to. For instance, this movie, as I mentioned above, is somewhat sided, but never too pompous and certainly never propagandist. More than that, it’s never portrayed in an epic way. One may argue that the reason for that is the low budget, but whether it was for that reason or not, it’s nice to see a good atmosphere without recurring to filmic exaggeration. The photography too is never too pompous, there is no need to be, and that is why it is very much appreciated. Another pleasent thing is that this movie is for everyone to see, not only for an intellectual crowd. One does not need to know all the political undertones of the story to enjoy and understand the film, because they are more or less introduced well at the start of the film, and others are intorduced in ‘real time’ as the main character of the journalits Guy Hamilton finds them out himself.
WATCH FOR THE MOMENT – Billy Kwan, in desperation, sitting at his desk in front of his typewriter and the pictures of the people of Indonesia, asks himself what could be done to change things, and as he pounds the keys, he gets angrier and angrier.