In My Country (5/10):

By Tony Medley

After the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa the new leaders sought to expose the truth about the extent of the atrocities committed by the previous regime, bring closure to what had been centuries of oppression, and create an environment in which all South Africans could start afresh. The result was a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), created to reconcile the past. It was based on the principle of Ubuntu, which strives to create harmony among people by absolving those responsible for horrible murder and torture in return for public confession. If the bad guys will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and express contrition, they might be granted amnesty, if they could prove that their crimes were politically motivated and that they were only following orders.

This film is based on those hearings, which actually took place, only with fictional characters. Writer Ann Peacock and director John Boorman introduce Langston Whitfield (Samuel L. Jackson) as a black American Washington Post journalist, extremely skeptical, who meets Anna Malan (Juliette Binoche), who is an Afrikaans poet covering the hearings for South African state radio and NPR in the United States. They also create a real bad guy, Col De Jager (Brendan Gleeson), as a notorious torturer. The three characters are made up people who never existed. Langston and Anna travel throughout the country listening to the tales of the people who have been oppressed for so long. The tales they hear are shocking and depressing.

Based on a novel by Antjie Krog, this film has many shortcomings, not the least of which is the contrived love story between Anna and Langston, which results in Anna committing adultery despite no real emotional involvement with Langston. At least I didnít discern any involvement, either because of bad writing, bad directing, bad acting, a bad idea, or a combination. The concept of the TRC is strong enough that it doesnít need a silly Hollywood love story.

Worse, the entire premise of this film is the enlightened concept of forgiveness in return for confession. Thatís thrown down the drain with a feel good Hollywood ending that degrades the laudatory premise. These changes created by Hollywood filmmakers diminished a terrific story of charitable absolution of horrible malfeasance.

This could have been a beautiful story because the idea of forgiving the Nazi-like people who tormented native Africans for so long in order to begin again is unique and appealing. But thatís the problem that arises when Hollywood gets involved with history. History gets destroyed or rewritten in such a way as to be unrecognizable. There are some good parts of this movie that can make viewing it worthwhile; the native people telling their stories of oppression and the cinematography (Seamus Deasy) of the beautiful country , but they arenít enough to keep ďIn My CountryĒ from being a lamentable lost opportunity to tell a great story.

February 23, 2005

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