The Diplomat

"Very Good"

The Diplomat Review


The Australian documentary The Diplomat gives a nearly complete overview of the situation in East Timor up to its August 1999 elections. It starts with the historical background of this small island's tribulations: Since the 16th century until 1975, the island was a Portuguese colony. Then, with the end of the Portuguese revolution, East Timor declared its independence and was immediately invaded by Indonesia, its giant neighbor.

The focus of the film is José Ramos Horta, a political activist who represents the Eastern Timorese Resistance historic leader, Xanana Gusmao, who was imprisoned in Indonesia for a 20-year sentence. Horta is a 1996 Nobel Prize winner who has been fighting for the independence of this little-known island for 24 years.

The most compelling aspect of the film is its ability to convey how the tragic events of East Timor and its desperate struggle for independence have been largely ignored by the world. Since East Timor has no army to support its claims for autonomy, Horta says it must have been an act of God that his people had survived.

Horta's life is that of a peripatetic fighter who is exiled from the country the independence of which is his life mission. The challenge of Horta's mission is accentuated by the fact that there is no unity among the leaders of East Timor; some of them are satisfied by living in a country annexed to its oppressors, others are adamant to fight for complete independence till the end. The film follows Horta, almost always dog-tired, from one conference on the East Timorese crisis to another and intersperses Horta's diplomatic career with footage of hot events happening in East Timor: President Suharto resigns, Habibie takes his place, nothing changes. Indonesia itself has enough to worry about and when its economic crisis reaches the bottom of the barrel, Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas is sent to deliver to the world promises of security and protection for East Timor.

While Horta's mother, Natalina, recollects how Indonesian militia attacked her residence and took the lives of her children, the actual footage testifies the acts of barbaric genocide that took place on the island. The film hits all the appropriate strings by conveying how murder, torture, rape, all kinds of physical, sexual, and psychological violations have been the daily life of the people of East Timor. It clearly exemplifies the frightening hypocrisy of the Indonesian government which declares the crisis stable while more and more people are being brutally executed.

Unfortunately, up until the depiction of the 1999 democratic election in East Timor, the film more or less plods along. It is only then that the film picks up the pace by showing that just four hours after the official announcement, the defeated militia gangs start to set East Timor on fire. There is a moment of almost sublime irony when President Bill Clinton visits Indonesia with the intention to stop the genocide and bring UN peacekeeping forces to the country. He is greeted with a military ceremony that, in my opinion, signifies the irreconcilable difference between the East and the West.

Ironically, the portrait of José Ramos Horta, an indefatigable fighter who broke the silence about East Timor in the (disinterested) Western press, doesn't come out as memorable or inspiring. Unquestionably, the film is very effective and involving due to its subject matter, without a mawkish triumph-of-the-human-spirit agenda being pushed. But what should have been a celebration of human tenacity comes out as an intelligent film, though with a somewhat insipid portrayal of its hero.

Diplomacy.



The Diplomat

Facts and Figures

Run time: 94 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 24th January 2009

Production compaines: Australian Film Finance Corporation, Screentime Pty. Ltd.

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

IMDB: 5.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Tom Zubrycki

Producer: Sally Browning, Wilson da Silva

Starring: as Ian Porter, as Detective Chief Inspector Julie Hales, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor as Mark Wilson, as Pippa Porter, Don Hany as Sergei Krousov, Jonny Pasvolsky as Antonio Morelli, Tony Martin as Bill Murray, Socratis Otto as Shannon Cross, as Detective Sergeant Neil Trent, Alex Menglet as Dimitri, Shane Briant as Winston Beale, Costa Ronin as Vladimir, as Charles Van Koors

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