In My Country

| March 14, 2005

When Apartheid was ended in South Africa, the people accused of torture and murder were given an opportunity for amnesty if they were confronted by survivors, gave full, public disclosure, and could prove their actions were politically motivated. Over 21,000 people told their stories to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and over 1,200 hundred defendants appeared to ask for forgiveness. This is the setting for In My Country, a film which is able to boil down months of testimony to show a representative and most powerful cross section of personal loss experienced when the white minority held control of the black majority.
The story is told through the experiences of two people who covered the hearings for the media. Langston Whitfield (Samuel L. Jackson) was a journalist sent by the Washington Post. He is not only skeptical that the hearings will work, but carries all the baggage of growing up in an America that may not have authorized torture, but certainly kept the African American population on the lower rung of society. Anna Malan (Juliette Binoche), is an Afrikaans poet who is covering the hearings for radio. Though it is never explained why she is the right person for that job, we are shown that she was the perfect choice. As a white South African, she is torn by the accounts of barbaric behavior committed by her countrymen in her name.
As for filmmaking, I applaud director John Boorman (The Tailor of Panama, Beyond Rangoon) and South African born screenwriter Ann Peacock (A Lesson Before Dying) for their ability to take such a large amount of testimony and boil it down to such a powerful film. If I could share one scene in particular, a man who kills a husband and wife confronts a small boy who witnessed the entire act. The response to his request for forgiveness is deeply moving beyond almost anything I have seen when taken as an example of what had to happen to heal that country. The brilliance of Mandella for coming up with an idea to bury the past had never occurred to obviously to me.
Jackson (Changing Lanes, Pulp Fiction, Coach Carter) is perfect. I wish I could come up with other words to describe him in films, but there are none. Binoche (Chocolat, The English Patient), who does most of her work in French, would be in the same category if we saw her more. In My Country would not be the same without their moving performances.
In My Country is a movie you should see in the theater. I think it helps to experience the vastness of the photography, the incredible music, and the feeling of all the people when surrounded by an audience.

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