Monday, 20 October 2014

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL: Beti and Amare (2014)

This short review appeared on The Upcoming website here as part of their coverage of the BFI London Film Festival.

Beti and Amare is a difficult film to categorize – a war romance set in 1936 with science-fiction elements made for only $7,000 in Ethiopia – and most likely one the likes of which you probably haven’t seen before.

Set during Mussolini’s Abyssinian war, a young woman, Beti (Hiwot Asres), escapes to her grandfather’s (Atrsaw Wisenbet) remote hut. They lead a meagre existence. Beti is threatened with rape by the local militia, a band of three young men in search of Italians to kill. When their goat dies, Beti’s grandfather leaves her alone in the hut, where she encounters a stranger, Amare (Pascal Dawson), who may be from outer space.

The film begins with an old-fashioned newsreel, which, despite being oddly upbeat in the face of some very real suffering, does make one pertinent observation – in times of war, it is the most vulnerable who suffer the most. The film then is an attempt to address Mussolini’s war from the perspective of those who suffered the most. Beti is a refugee, forced into a meagre life in a remote hut, living alone and under threat from men riled up by war. Beti dreams about a spaceship crash-landing on Earth, a dream that seems to come true when Beti is most in danger. Beti and Amare strike up a strong wordless friendship, one that helps Beti through her suffering and her loneliness.

The film is about suffering rather than battles and war, and it is a valuable film in this regard. Asres gives a strong performance, conveying both Beti’s vulnerability and strength without the use of a lot of dialogue. The film is well directed, particularly when one considers that it was made on a shoestring. However, the film seems to be more interested in being a festival oddity, rather than an honest and emotional story about how a young woman copes with the horrible world she finds herself in. Instead of making Beti’s retreat into fantasy the focus of the story, the film uses it as an excuse for extended flights of fancy, which ultimately overwhelm the drama at the film’s heart.

The film sacrifices coherence for strangeness, leaving one wondering what exactly was writer-director Andy Siege trying to say with the film. The film purports to be about the suffering of the most vulnerable (a fact that sets it apart already), but it loses a certain truth by focusing on oddity.

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