Saturday, November 1, 2008

White African Soup

Tonight, I just finished watching The Interpreter, a political thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Shaun Penn. Its a fantastic movie, poigant, sober and well acted. I have never been a fan of Penn, but he certainly did a great job on this one. My only observation would be that he tended to slow the movie down, which given the complex plot and tangled relationships was probably a good thing.

Kidman, on the other hand, really drove and sustained the movie. I'm not sure what they paid her, but it was worth every cent. Her rendition of a white African from the ficticious "Matopo" was astonishingly believable, her characterisation intense, and she seemed to have a real grasp of what it means to live as a person of contradiction, from a land of contradictions. My only criticism would be that her naievite, whilst portrayed, was not believable.

Africa has featured in a swag of hit movies in the last few years. No longer relegated to the background of B-grade shootem ups. Award winning movies staring A list actors.

There was of course Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Jenniffer Connelly and Djimon Housou, which was nominated for five academy awards including best actor and best supporting actor. Based on the conflict over diamonds which ripped apart Sierra Leonne. In my humble opinion Di Caprio, another actor I have no partiality towards did in some ways a better job than Nicole as a white african mercinary smuggling gems for arms. (I have met some in the flesh bearing an uncanny resemblance to Leo the shrimp).

What made the difference between the two perfomances was the clear brief to Di Caprio. His character is a Rhodesian. He has spent most of his adult life in South Africa. It is easier to modulate an accent when there is one, and no-one quite knows what a "matopo" accent sounds like. At times Nicole sounded sort of Belgian, at other times South African, or perhaps French.De Caprios characterisation on the other hand is always consistent, and never misses a beat.

Much has been writen about the impact of this film on the conscience of the Developed world."Nobody would buy a diamond ring if they knew it cost someone their arm", taken from the movie became something of a catch cry among activists, but equally seemed to resonate with moms and dads in the audiences. I for one found the movie visually spectacular, fast paced and deeply moving. For me there is a very real possibility that I will not die in Africa, and that my parents will.

Frustration charaterises Jennifer Conellys character in Blood Diamond. She plays a hard hitting American journalist, who travels the worlds hotspots. In Sierra Leonne she confronts a problem so human and enormously overwhelming, she is powerless to stop it. She is a passionate crusader who is determined to make a difference. While I don't wish to sound cynical I don't see Hollywood producing a movie detailing American involment in Africa under the Reagan Administration. The closest they came to it was in The Bourne identity, with the character Wambosi.

In my younger days I went out a few times with an American photojournalist for the Mail and Guardian, an anti-apartheid paper which specialised in investigative journalism. We met when she covered a political rally in my hometown Pretoria. These were incredible days, like being in Berlin when the wall came down. Everything was happening right in front of us.

She invited me to a party, also with other journo's in Hillbrow, one of the areas which even at the height of Apartheid maintained its cosmopolitain flavour. It was the one place where whites an blacks could mix freely, outside of the townships of course. Nightclubs there were the favoured spot for social events for our student movements as all the Universities could attend.

It was one of those places your parents would warn you to stay well away from, although in saying that they probably meant it for mortality reasons, not morality ones. It was a dangerous place. Full of gansters, spies, terrorists and jazz musicians. We would bop along to Eddy Grant and Mango Groove, drowning our sense of dislocation and be praying fervently that we would get home alive, and with the vehicle we came in in one piece. Students. Same the world over. At the same time there was an undercurrent of hope, something alive, that there could be a better tommorrow, that Apartheid would end.

Another masterful portrayal of Africa recently saw Rachel Weisz win both a Golden Globe and an Academy award for best supporting actress. The film was the Constant Gardener. I seldom see eye to eye with the Academy when it comes to their picks, but this was one time they got it spot on. Both Weisz and Ralph Feinnes come to Africa from the outside, and are transformed by the people and the landscape they encounter. Whilst they don't portray Africans, their story becomes representative of the struggle of the African people. Of the dilemas they face. Of the daily grind of injustice and poverty no outsider can fully appreciate without having seen it for themselves. The target of the movie is predictably a conspiracy. Big business in collusion with pharmaceuticals, governments complicit if not aiding and abbetting. The story the masterful brainchild of John le Carre, author of Smileys people.

Africa's problems are complex. Every bit as complex as the characters played by these wonderful actors. They are political, spiritual, physical, and economic. They all bear a very human face.

The danger with the blame game is that the moment we have established a culprit we take away a wide range of options we have at our disposal to solve a problem. Its too easy to throw maney at a problem and think it will go away. To see a child on a poster, and to forget that that child had a mother, a family. Even one generation ago, it was not so unusual for families to adopt. It was the norm. Many of my best and dearest freinds are adopted. Now I am not suggesting that we all adopt an orphan from Africa. (thought that wouldnt be a bad start) I am merely using it as an illustration to say that we have somehow limited our ability to repond personally to problems in our society.

My passionate plea is that Africa not be forgotten, by our governments or ourselves. In the developed world we are facing a crisis structurally in our economic systems. If the crisis is to affect wealthy nations, how much more so those who have nothing. Haiti is the text book case at the moment. ....Anyhow...stepping off my soapbox...

Another recent addition to the Empire Films Back stable is Country of My Skull, after the book of the same name by Aintjie Krog. Samuel L. Jackson starred alongside Juliette Binoche in a difficult piece. Filming a story from a non-fiction work which is so intensely autobiographical does present its challenges.

The story follows the author as an Afrikaaner Journalist covering the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission hearings in the aftermath of Apartheid. The Commission, headed up by former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, (for whom I baked a cake when I was four, which flopped and turned out like a Yorkeshire pudding)sought to bring healing and restoration to both victims and perptrators of political violence. Issues of personal and collective guilt, remeberance and forgiveness permeate this film, which has a twist in the tail.

Binoche really shone in this role, while Jackson seemed to struggle to find the feet he was playing. I have very fond memories, of traveling with my father through the dry and dusty Karoo region taking it in turns to either drive or read, and share tears over the brokeness of our land, of our people. It's a memory I will take to the grave. I have wept bitter tears over Krog's story, and would recommend it to anyone who has a cast iron constitution. Its one I never regretted reading and will no doubt read again.

Anyhow, Its now 1:25am I guess I best get some shuteye. And to all a good night.

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