Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
Original title: Country of My Skull
United Kingdom/Ireland/South Africa, 2004. Chartoff Productions, Film Afrika Worldwide, Film Consortium, Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, Merlin Films, Phoenix Pictures, Studio Eight Productions, UK Film Council. Screenplay by Ann Peacock, based on the book Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog. Cinematography by Seamus Deasy. Produced by John Boorman, Robert Chartoff, Kieran Corrigan, Lynn Hendee, Mike Medavoy. Music by Murray Anderson. Production Design by Emilia Roux, Derek Wallace. Costume Design by Jo Katsaras. Film Editing by Ron Davis. Berlin Film Festival 2004.
The Truth And Reconcilitation Hearings that marked the overthrow of South Africa’s Apartheid government are the setting for this unconvincing and disappointing drama. Samuel L. Jackson stars as a Washington Post reporter who is sent to cover the hearings and finds himself constantly thrown together with a sensitive Afrikaaner reporter (Juliette Binoche) at every turn. He at first assumes she is either a heartless oppressor or willfully blind elitist, while she believes him to be a prejudiced sensationalist. When the two of them bond from spending time listening to the testimonies of victims seeking truth and perpetrators seeking amnesty, they eventually find the middle of the road. Fantastic setup, but director John Boorman gets it wrong by allowing the script (which is terrible) to focus too much on the protagonists’ relationship while giving short shrift to the enormity of the subject at hand. Over twenty one thousand people gave testimonies in the historically unprecedented hearings, the first time so cooperative an effort of political bridging has ever been made following an era of oppressive government, yet this movie would have you think it was a local cause celebre at a minor level. You could do no better in casting than Jackson and Binoche, who enjoy terrific chemistry together, but the supporting characters are thinly written and much of the dialogue is wooden and melodramatically cliched. Watch the real filmed testimonies in Deborah Hoffman and Frances Reid’s superb, Oscar-nominated documentary Long Night’s Journey Into Day if you really want to be educated on the subject (and then watch Chris Menges’ A World Apart for a better dramatic film about South Africa).