May 14th: Hot Java


105. The Year of Living Dangerously (Peter Weir, 1982)

Mel Gibson is the excellently named Guy Hamilton, a journalist on his first major assignment to Indonesia in 1965. He befriends a diminutive photographer, Billy Kwan, and becomes romantically involved with Sigourney Weaver’s diplomat, Jill Bryant. All this occurs against the backdrop of the Indonesian civil war erupting over this period. The film is anchored by Linda Hunt crossing genders to play Billy. Her performance is a rare and unexpected chance for an actress like her to shine, and shine she does. It came as no surprise to learn that Hunt won the Academy Award for best supporting actress, unsurprisingly there mustn’t have been many roles in the traditional mould on offer as the only things I recall seeing her in since are as the headmistress in Kindergarten Cop and the Museum proprietor in The Relic. I’d recommend watching this purely to see a brilliant performance which shows up Weaver and Gibson who contrive a fairly mechanical and uninspiring romance.

The Year of Living Dangerously is a beautiful film, even the slum squalor of the Indonesian peoples is made to seem exotic and enchanting. Unfortunately I couldn’t shake the disturbingly cynical colonial feeling of the whole thing. This applies specifically to the resolution which, whilst I want to avoid spoilers as much as possible, is very weirdly redemptive for Hamilton. His moral dilemma on whether to break news pertaining to the break of war is presented as an opposition to his own relationship rather than the direct impact on the country and people of Indonesia, which it will have a huge bearing on. It left me with a slightly bitter taste about the whole thing, as has this review which has meandered all over the bloody place to avoid giving away the plot!