Apartheid: Forgive & Forget

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In 1995, following the fall of South Africa's apartheid regime, Nelson Mandela stunned the world by announcing that his new government was prepared to forgive anyone, Black or white, guilty of committing atrocities during the country's bloody civil war, provided they confessed publicly. Headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) heard the tearful testimony of over 21,000 victims before pardoning 1,163 penitent perpetrators of crimes against humanity. Antjie Krog, an Afrikaner radio and newspaper reporter who covered the proceedings daily, is the author of "Country of My Skull," the 2000 best-seller which recounted both the graphic horrors unrelentingly recounted and the emotional and physical toll the two-year assignment took on her health and on her personal life.
Taking liberties with Ms. Krog's moving memoir, five-time Oscar-nominee John Boorman (Deliverance, Hope & Glory) brings her story to the screen as "In My Country," a cross-cultural tale of betrayal set against the backdrop of the TRC hearings. Juliette Binoche stars as Anna, a role ostensibly based on Antjie. Anna is an anguished soul, a good-hearted woman increasingly shamed by each further revelation of her people's barbarity.

Yet, she is passionately attached to South Africa, the only homeland she has ever known. For the sake of philosophical and sexual tension, the movie conveniently juxtaposes Anna with Langston Whitfield (Samuel L. Jackson), a fiery fictional character. Langston is a revenge-minded writer for the  Washington Post who feels that whites shouldn't be getting off scot-free for the evils of apartheid. Despite their political and ethnic differences, the protagonists sit side-by-side in court, by day, and debate the pros and cons of mass absolution over drinks, after hours.

Each is an expert at forcing the other to examine the flaws in their core belief system. Like a latter-day Hepburn and Tracy, Binoche and Jackson generate a palpable chemistry via this tempestuous relationship that always threatens to boil over spontaneously and alter from adversarial to romantic. The only things preventing the pair from falling into each otherrquote s arms are wedding vows and the constant presence of Dumi (Menzi Ngubane), Anna's goofball assistant.

Though I found this fabricated front story (an affair not contained in the book) engaging and thoroughly entertaining, the back storyrquote s underlying theme still remained more compelling ultimately. For the novel notion of South Africa's actually achieving closure and harmony via forgiveness rather than through retribution speaks volumes about the prospects of achieving a lasting peace among the rest of humanity.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity, violence and the graphic description of atrocities.
In English and Afrikaans with subtitles.
Running time: 104 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics.

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