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Langston Whitfield is a Washington Post journalist. His editor provocatively sends him to South Africa to cover the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, in which the perpetrators of murder and torture on both sides during Apartheid are invited to come forward and confront their victims. By telling the unvarnished truth and expressing contrition, they may be granted amnesty. Can the deep wounds of Apartheid be healed through reconciliation? Langston is deeply skeptical. He tracks down Col. De Jager, the most notorious torturer in the SA Police and tries to penetrate the mind of a monster, an experience that obliges him to confront his own demons. Anna Malan is an Afrikaans poet who is covering the hearings for radio. As a white South African she is shattered by the accounts of the cruelty and depravity committed by her fellow countrymen. Anna and Langston must both question their sense of identity. Where do they each belong? How responsible are they for what is done in the ... Written by
I am not a big fan of romances, but in this case I gave it a try because of director John Boorman ["Excalibur," "The Emerald Forest," "Hope & Glory, "Deliverance"] and actors Samuel L. Jackson ["Coach Carter," "Star Wars: Episodes 2 & 3," "The Red Violin"] and Juliette Binoche ["Chocolat," "The English Patient," and the 1992 remake of "Wuthering Heights"].
This film was in the better half of Boorman's, while Jackson and Binoche gave top-notch performances. The supporting role of Dumi, played by Menzi Ngubane was excellent, as he acted both as foil and antagonist between the couple.
I think the weakest elements of this film are in screenwriter Ann Peacock's dialogue and in the construction of the Anna Malan and brother Boetie characters. The first for taking on just a little too much burden of responsibility, especially in one somewhat uncharacteristic scene at one of the hearings with a particularly gory testimony, and the latter for being incomplete when a key development occurs that should have played more into the storyline and into Anna's reactions.
From what I've heard about the book by Antje Krog, I can understand why anyone who had read it before seeing this movie might be disappointed, but it was certainly clear to me by the marketing that this was a romance and not a cinematic litany of the horrors of Apartheid.
Given the turbulent background of Apartheid and the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission proceedings, along with other clues, I was also expecting this to be an adversaries-fall-in-love story, which is the type of romance that I like the most. The collective incidents which drive Anna and Langston together are neither contrived or turgid, and fall comfortably in between, especially because they are juxtaposed with events based in reality. There is one most significant turn at one of the hearings, which, given it is true, would bring any two adversaries together, in peace if not in love.
I don't want to give away anything about the extent of their romance, except to say that how it ended up was a pleasant surprise and quite satisfactory. I wish I could recommend two other good romances that end so similarly and satisfactorily, but I would give away the surprise.
This film is certainly worth a rental or two, worth showing to friends, but I suppose the disturbing nature of the background events might keep some people from buying it for their home library, but if you bought a copy of "American History X," I think you might want to buy this one.
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