In My Country

South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a remarkable event, especially from a Western viewpoint. While the country was still reeling from the effects of years of apartheid, the new government set up the Commission with the purpose of bringing the evils of the past out into the open, so that everybody, blacks and whites, could begin the process of moving on. People (primarily Afrikaners) were granted amnesty if they truthfully confessed their actions during the regime and proved they were only following orders. Often, this meant listening to horrifying testimony from relatives of their victims. The entire process was based on the African concept of "ubuntu," which states in part that the sins of one affect all, and that by understanding them, it creates unity.

In My Country is based on Antjie Krog's novel The Country of My Skull, which was based in part on her own experiences. It looks at the Commission from the eyes of two very different people, Afrikaner Anna Malan (Juliette Binoche, Jet Lag, Chocolat) and American Langston Whitfield (Samuel L. Jackson, Coach Carter, The Incredibles), an African-American reporter for the Washington Post. Milan is doing reports for a South African radio station. She is a poet, and grew up in a privileged family. Although not personally responsible for any evils towards Africans, she feels guilty because of her race. Whitfield arrives with an American understanding of racial politics - he has a huge chip on his shoulder. He does not believe that the Commission will do any good, especially since economically, Africans were still far below the Afrikaners.

The concept is interesting and the source material is important, but director John Boorman (The Tailor of Panama, The General) oversimplifies things. Adapter Ann Peacock does do a good job of showcasing the cultural clash between Malan and Whitfield, who both make assumptions about the other. In My Country begins to go awry when the story develops a romance between the two. Yes, they are listening to emotionally turbulent testimony together, but to have them fall in love is a bit insulting to the rest of the story. It feels as if Boorman felt he needed something to draw people to watch them movie. Focusing more on the reconciliation would have been a better choice. There is little chemistry between Binoche and a toned-down Jackson, but this was probably the point. They are coming together not out of lust, but out of a mutual need to feel some life amidst all of the death.

The only interesting character is De Jagr (Brendan Gleeson, The Village, Troy), an army officer who has a lot of pertinent information about torture tactics used on Africans. Whitfield tries to convince him to tell his story to the Times. The meetings between the two are tense, as both are highly mistrustful of each other. A lot of the tension centers on the fact that the concept of 'ubuntu' seems to alien to Whitfield. The rest of the film is moving testimony from Africans, as they recount the horrors piled upon them by corrupt officials. This is where In My Country is strongest, and this is where the focus should have been.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 44 minutes, Rated R for language, including a descriptions of atrocities, and for a scene of violence.

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