Cry in My Beloved Country
Unfortunate for this film but lucky for us, In My Country follows hard on the heels of Hotel Rwanda. Imperfect around the edges, the latter, by Terry George, holds its center in a wonderful performance (Don Cheadle) and does not stoop to easy graphic reinforcement or sentimentality, which cannot be said of John Boorman’s newest.
Ann Peacock spent four years on her screenplay from Country of My Skull, Afrikaans poetess Antjie Krog’s personal account of reporting on South Africa’s 1996 multi-venue Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearings, public airings of acts of violence on both sides between the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 and the inauguration of Nelson Mandela twenty-four years later. Under Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, these open soul-searchings took as their base Ubuntu, the seeking of bringing together, rather than punishing, through confession of guilt and, in cases of political motivation and orders from above, state amnesty and recognition of brotherhood among mankind.
Sandwiched fore and aft by sweeps of the country’s rich varied landscapes, the film is most effective in depicting victims’ and their families’ agonized testimonies, but errs egregiously in introducing several interlocking, supposedly parallel threads intended to exemplify twin themes of truth and the acceptance of one’s fellow man and oneself, the whole patly rounded out with a Hollywood love-and-renunciation conclusion.
In another good performance, and one that comes close to overcoming her character’s moments of inconsistency, Juliette Binoche is Anna Malan, a writer from a privileged farming family, whose love of and complete identification with her country does not prevent her sensing the deep sins committed in its name. A wife and mother of three, covering the process for state radio and for Public Radio in the U.S., she is horrified by testimony -- theoretically hysterical in one outbreak of giggles -- yet defensive and hopeful of national healing in the face of boss Felicia Rheinhards’s (Fiona Ramsay) disagreeable commercial interest.
Foil to Anna will obviously be Langston Whitfield (a disappointing Samuel L. Jackson), a Washington Post reporter with a shoulder chip. Believing that the outside is not truly interested in blacks or justice for them, he feels that as an African-American he knows the soul of the Dark Continent from his own homegrown experience and, furthermore, that the hearings’ “foreign” concept of admission leading to amnesty is no more than a white evasion. In passing he mentions devotion to a soccer-crazy nine-year-old son but does not once bring up his wife, marking him as a man bitterly separated from country, roots, family and self.
Naturally clashing here and there, the two journalists are drawn together in more ways than one, as beliefs open and develop, and they pal around with Dumi Mkhalipi (Menzi Ngubane), her self-appointed sound engineer and factotum. Implausibly, Dumi -- who, like many, has a hidden past of his own -- easily secures for the American correspondent a series of interviews with ginger-bearded Col. De Jager (Brendan Gleeson, still sounding Dublin), feared “monster” state torturer who forces Langston to face aspects of himself and will also reveal further dreadful secrets about the past and complicity.
The library at Anna’s parents’ large cattle farm contains a volume of poems autographed by Langston Hughes during mother’s stay in Paris, and the woman insists that reporter Langston accept his namesake’s signed book as a gift. Other secrets will emerge from those distant Paris years, and in the end all these subplotlets hammer home ideas about love and lies, interconnectedness and the impossibility of life without truth.
As in countless other stories, hero and heroine are the wiser for shared experience, and although such new awareness may brings obligation and pain, characters are more complete for it. In personal sacrifice lies growth and, in poet Hughes’s voiced ending, “no regrets . . . though the return be never.”
(Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated "R" for language, including descriptions of atrocities.)