A tale of two homelands


Produced and directed by Tom Zubrycki
Shown at the Melbourne International Film Festival
Reviewed by Di Quin

Homelands tells the story of Maria and Carlos Robles, political refugees from El Salvador now living in suburban Melbourne. It is a story about their lives, their struggles, their love for one another. There's one big problem. They are divided on the issue of where they belong.

Shot over a 12-month period in El Salvador and Melbourne, the documentary-style film provides an insight into the devastation of a country caused by 12 years of civil war. In sharing Maria and Carlos' experiences, we are also shown the enormous social impact of war on people and communities.

Carlos and Maria were active members of the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN) and fought during the civil war against the US-backed military regime. The move to Australia with their four daughters at the end of the war allowed them to escape political persecution and regain some semblance of family life.

Maria is able to find satisfying work teaching English to Salvadoran emigres. Her children are happy, and she is able to save a little money.

The transition for Carlos is much more difficult. Torn between his love for his family and his desire to return to El Salvador, he chooses to return and works in FMLN strongholds setting up education centres for young people who either fought in the war or were displaced by the fighting.

Carlos is desperately needed in El Salvador; Maria is much happier in Australia. Six months down the track, Maria goes to visit Carlos and we are taken on an emotional journey through a war-ravaged country and shown the significance of the work Carlos is doing there.

The film concludes with their decision to return to

Australia together, their problems unsolved, perhaps with a greater understanding of each other's needs, both with a strong desire to keep their family united.

Director and producer Tom Zubrycki has brilliantly captured the physical and emotional upheavals Maria and Carlos face. The film vividly portrays Carlos' frustration, his sense of helplessness and his disdain for the "comforts" of life in Australia.

In contrast we see Maria, settled and adjusted to her new life, unwilling to return to the hardships of El Salvador. What she sees as her new-found freedoms and opportunities in Melbourne provide compelling reasons to stay.

If you think this all sounds heavy going, you're mistaken. The film is colourful and interspersed with some very funny moments that had the audience cheering. The humour is uncontrived and human, adding a great deal of warmth to a difficult subject.

I left the theatre feeling as though I had been part of an intimate family experience, as well as being treated to an informative and thoroughly enjoyable movie.