Occasionally awkward but consistently well-intentioned, John Boorman's most topical film since BEYOND RANGOON (1995) dramatizes the events surrounding the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which hoped to expose crimes committed under the cloak of Apartheid while creating a forum where understanding and forgiveness might occur. South...read more
Occasionally awkward but consistently well-intentioned, John Boorman's most topical film since BEYOND RANGOON (1995) dramatizes the events surrounding the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which hoped to expose crimes committed under the cloak of Apartheid while creating a forum where understanding and forgiveness might occur. South Africa, 1995: Even though renowned Afrikaaner poet Anna Malan's (Juliette Binoche) wealthy family benefited from the racial divisions of Apartheid, she's optimistic about the upcoming TRC hearings and the hope they hold for her beloved country's future. She's even agreed to cover the proceedings from the various towns and villages where the hearings are to be held, and to provide short broadcasts for a popular South African radio station. Anna's father, landowner Willem Malan (Louis Van Niekerk), holds the opposite view: "It's not our country anymore," he warns her. "It's open season on whites now." Anna's argument that violent retribution is exactly what the hearings hope to avoid falls on deaf ears, and her father isn't the only skeptic. When Anna arrives in Cape Town she meets African-American reporter Langston Whitfield (Samuel L. Jackson), whose cynical take on the TRC is that it's yet another strategy to help those responsible for appalling human-rights abuses to walk away with little more than a slap on the wrist. Anna tries to explain that the Commission is rooted in the African tradition of Ubuntu, which strives to re-establish equilibrium by fostering compassion, but as the hearings get under way and the parade of unthinkable atrocities begins, even Anna's strong faith is put to the test. Meanwhile, her sound man, Dumi (Menzi Ngubane), puts Langston in touch with the notorious S.A. policeman Colonel De Jager (Brendan Gleeson), a vicious sadist accused of committing some of the worst abuses on record. His defense makes him sound a lot like the Nazis at Nuremberg: He was only following orders, and is now being offered up by the top command as a scapegoat. He even offers Langston a career scoop: proof that the top-level generals knew exactly what was going on every step of the way. Working from a script by the South African screenwriter Ann Peacock, Boorman paints himself into a few uncomfortable corners the scene in which white Anna teaches black Langston about understanding is a particularly tight one and some of the establishing scenes, while meeting the subject's expository demands, are clumsily handled. It is, however, an intelligent and powerful piece of filmmaking that explores the ways in which unexposed truths can erupt in the worst possible ways. Along with the superb documentary LONG NIGHT'S JOURNEY INTO DAY (2000), it's essential viewing for anyone interested in the state of post-Apartheid South Africa.
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