Report Aria Danaparamita
Eleven years after the bloody conflict comes family-friendly film “Tanah Air Beta” (“My Motherland”), which dramatizes a refugee family’s struggle to reunite while coping with poverty following the 1999 East Timor referendum.
The measure declared East Timor (now Timor-Leste) independent from Indonesia. Hounded by pro-Indonesian militias, more than 132,000 Timorese, according to data from the Social Affairs Ministry, fled the violence to neighboring East Nusa Tenggara in 1999.
Thousands of them now still reside in scattered refugee camps, mostly under pitiful conditions.
Tatiana (Alexandra Gottardo) is one of the refugees. She and her 10-year-old daughter, Merry (Griffit Patricia), are among the thousands trudging along the dirt road toward sanctuary.
Unfortunately, the two are separated from Tatiana’s son, Mauro, played by Marcel Raymond, whom Tatiana believes is still alive somewhere in East Timor.
Upon reaching the refugee camp, however, Tatiana and the others are consigned to a life of poverty. In their bamboo-walled shacks with palm leaf roofs, the exiles must cope with the lack of water and sanitation in the disease-prone village.
Despite understaffed community health posts and a school that consists of one makeshift classroom, the characters find a source of strength in one another.
With the help of fellow refugee Abu Bakar (Asrul Dahlan) and Merry’s naughty classmate Carlo (Yehuda Rumbindi), Tatiana and her daughter slowly begin rebuilding their lives.
When Tatiana falls ill the optimistic charm is broken. Merry decides to cross the border to find her missing brother and reunite the family before it’s too late.
Carlo follows, and the unlikely companions begin an adventurous, often comical journey through the arid yet beautiful land.
One stolen chicken and a case of severe dehydration later, the two arrive at the border city of Motain, but will their heart-wrenching tale end happily?
The film, director Ari Sihasale’s latest work, presents a spirited portrait of the Timor landscape. The barracks, tattered shirts and dirty faces of the displaced poor are juxtaposed against scenic shots of the stunning natural beauty of the island.
The setting is embellished with the touching relationships that blossom between characters.
Additionally, funny moments provided by the simple Abu and the cheeky Carlo keep the mood light and thoroughly enjoyable.
Meanwhile, the music fits the nationalistic theme, especially with songs like “Indonesia Pusaka” (“Indonesia, A Heritage”) and “Kasih Ibu” (“Mother’s Love”) accompanying particularly moving moments.
At times though, the score feels heavy-handed and overly dramatic.
But beyond aesthetics, the film conveys important messages, such as promoting healthy living. Sponsored by soap brand Lifebuoy, the film pointedly shows children washing their hands before eating in order to prevent diseases like diarrhea.
The inclusion of multicultural characters like Chinese-Indonesian shop owners Ko Ipin (Robby Tumewu) and wife Ci Irene (Thessa Kaunang), encourage peaceful multi-ethnic cohabitation.
But considering the film deals with one of the country’s darkest moments, it falls short of truly appreciating and illustrating the gravity of the Timor conflict.
Family separation, for one, is a serious problem that is reduced to a too-simple plot. Thousands of Timorese are still prevented from reuniting with families and repatriating due to complicated bureaucracy and the high costs of obtaining passports and visas.
Moreover, issues regarding the presence of the military, volunteers and journalists in the region remain untouched. The film also chose to ignore the persisting political tension in the area and the ongoing strain between locals and refugees.
Similarly, the film’s characters lacked depth. With the possible exception of Yehuda, whose portrayal of Carlo is natural, other characters are simplified to supposedly thoughtful silences or forced, choppy dialogues.
The often preachy script, on top of the cast member’s unconvincing eastern Indonesian accents, makes much of the story seem unnatural.
For a movie based so much on the connections between the characters, the lack of emotional growth renders it somewhat weak, and at times, almost cheesy.
Nonetheless, what the movie lacks in political depth it makes up for with the simple, honest and powerful spirit of family and friendship.
In the end, even as a country is being torn apart, one can always turn to loved ones. Or at least enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Report Aria Danaparamita