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In My Country
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by Peter Sobczynski

"One of the world's best directors gives us one of his worst films"
2 stars

During his 40-odd years as a filmmaker, British director John Boorman has amassed one of the most fascinatingly diverse filmographies of anyone working today–a body of work comprising of intense thrillers (“Point Blank” and “Deliverance”) smart social comedies (“Where the Heart Is” and “The Tailor of Panama”) intimate dramas (“Hope and Glory” and “Beyond Rangoon”) and astounding surrealistic fantasies (“Excalibur,” “Zardoz” and the jaw-dropping “Exorcist II: The Heretic”). With his latest effort, the South African-set “In My Country,” he once again gives viewers something completely unexpected–an utterly tone-deaf failure that is simply bewildering to behold. How could the man who has previously given us such great films as the ones listed above (as well as such other must-sees as “Leo the Last” and “The General”) have ever deluded himself into thinking that Ann Peacock’s trite and vaguely offensive screenplay was even vaguely worth bringing to the screen?

The setting of the film–the 1995 Truth and Reconciliation Committee, which was formed to bring perpetrators of torture during the days of apartheid face-to-face with their victims to confess their crimes and ask for forgiveness–sounds like it would be a piece with his other socially progressive works and indeed, many of the sequences in which the oppressors and the oppressed confront each other in a swirl of rage, shame and fear are effective. If Boorman had stuck to these wrenching confessions (many taken directly from the actual transcripts), he might have come up with a thoughtful film about a country trying to come to terms with its shameful past by forgiving the unforgivable. Instead, they wind up serving as mere background material for a thoroughly unconvincing relationship between an angry black Washington Post journalist (Samuel L. Jackson) and a white South African poet (Juliette Binoche) sent to cover the hearings. That’s right, in a film supposedly about confronting the horrors of apartheid, those elements take a back seat to unbelievable scenes in which the white Afrikaner patronizingly lectures the black American on the concept of forgiveness and even more unbelievable scenes depicting their unlikely affair.

I can only assume that this storyline was added in an effort to make the storyline more palatable to financiers, who tend to shy away from stories of black oppression unless they can somehow be told through the eyes of a noble white person. Although I cannot believe that Boorman intended it this way, the result is that the film seems to equate their affair, and Binoche’s guilt and need to confess to her own husband, with the genuine tragedies that we hear described by those at the committee hearings. By the end of the film, the story gets so tangled up in Binoche’s personal soap opera that the Truth and Reconciliation testimonies are essentially tossed to the side and forgotten. Even though Jackson and Binoche acquit themselves reasonably well under the circumstances, they never quite let you forget how superfluous they really are.

Jackson’s best scenes–the best scenes in the movie, in fact--are the ones in which he is shown in the middle of a confrontational interview with an unrepentant Afrikaner, played by longtime Boorman regular Brendan Gleeson, in which each one is blatant about exploiting the other for personal gain (one for a story and the other for survival). When the two of them face off, there are genuine fireworks and they show the kind of film that Boorman could and should have made. With its wholesale squandering of a powerful premise, great actors and a world-class director, “In My County” does something that I never would have dreamed could have been possible–it almost makes “Cry Freedom” seem tolerable by comparison.

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originally posted: 04/01/05 14:18:42
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User Comments

10/10/05 Tom Beach 4 stars
1/13/05 Jason Grimshaw Subtle, beautiful and heart wrenching 5 stars
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  11-Mar-2005 (R)
  DVD: 05-Jul-2005



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