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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
COUNTRY OF MY SKULL aka IN MY COUNTRY is no masterpiece thats for sure, but it has been unfairly slaughtered by critics who were expecting something else entirely.
The film is set against the real life "Truth and Reconcilliation Commission" set up in South Africa after apartheid in order to begin the process of healing the wounds of a divided nation.
However this commission is not the subject of the film, it is the setting. The main drama of the film emanates from the love/hate relationship between journalists Langston Whitfield (Samuel L.Jackson) and Anna Malan (Juliette Binoche).
Whitfield, a Washington Post journalist, is sent to South Africa to cover the hearings. He meets local journalist Anna Malan who is covering the hearings for radio. She trusts the commission entirely and believes forgiveness is the only way forward for her country.
Whitfield however places no trust in a system that does not punish. The pair immediately clash and begin a battle of wills.
however soon the enormity of the evidence they hear draws them together into an affair.
Boorman is not interested in exploring the TRC as a system or it's successes and failures. Instead he is more interested in its impact on his two vastly different protagonists, who must confront issues of race and gender in their own relationship as much as in their work. This is the films strength and weakness. It is beautifully intimate yet is set in a time of great social upheaval which is all but ignored.
The other major problem is that much of the early dialogue sets out to explain the political and social setting rather than define the characters. This leads to somewhat inane characterisation.
With Binoche however Boorman has struck it lucky. Her hard work is evident and although her character is poorly drawn the actresses understanding of emotion allows us to read much into her performance. Even her Afrikaans accent is passable. She displays an incredible tenderness throughout the film. Jackson however does not fair as well, giving a sullen and almost lethargic performance.
To call COUNTRY OF MY SKULL an utter failure as has been suggested by some critics is unfair. With his female protagonist and interesting setting Boorman's sincerity is beyond question and for that alone he deserves praise.
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