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a hero's journey

Singapore 2007
Directed by
Grace Phan
80 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Hero's Journey, A

Synopsis: Documentary exploring the experiences of East Timor's first president, Xanana Gusmao, as a freedom fighter.

Similar in format and content to 2005's Shake Hands With The Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire, A Hero's Journey follows Xanana Gusmao as he retraces the events and places of the troubled past which brought him to the public eye and reflects on its meaning for him as an individual. Both films are more concerned with portraying the individual himself rather than providing much in the way of historical information or analysis. The most distinctive difference in them as portraits is that Gusmao is amongst his own people and is also a poet. Although English is not his first language, he is able to eloquently articulate his thoughts and feelings with the confidence of a man who has a sense of belonging. Dallaire on the other hand was a foreigner only briefly caught up in Rwanda's tragedy and his estrangement was part of his tragedy. The result is a sense of anguish on the one hand, of homecoming on the other.

Singapore filmmaker Grace Phan deftly chooses her material and lets Gusmao tell his own story with very little interspersal of second-hand commentary, giving us a resonant portrait of a President more concerned with people than politics and with right action rather than statesmanship. Indeed the main concern of the film is its address to the question of how the East Timorese can genuinely reconcile with their Indonesian oppressors and make their way in the world with the compromises that implies. Whilst no doubt there are those who criticise Gusmao as a soft-liner, what shines through is the man's gentleness and humility and desire to act wisely rather than for personal gain. One wishes that such good-hearted idealism and spiritual reflectiveness was a more common characteristic of political leaders the world over.




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