I can say this for “In My Country”: A more well-intentioned film has not been made. Directed by John Boorman and based on Antjie Krog’s book “Country of My Skull,” the movie dramatizes the feelings of South Africa during the tender healing years that followed apartheid. I do not question the filmmaker’s sincerity, but he has made a flat, uninvolving movie. The road to boredom is paved with good intentions, after all.
In 1994, apartheid was overthrown and amnesty was offered to those who had persecuted and killed during those shameful years, provided they disclosed everything and could prove they were merely following orders. Victims were allowed to face their tormenters, and it was a step toward starting over in a new South Africa.
At least that’s how it’s viewed by Anna Malan (Juliette Binoche), a white South African poet and journalist assigned to cover the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings for NPR. Disagreeing with her is Langston Whitfield (Samuel L. Jackson), a black journalist for the Washington Post who believes granting amnesty is simply letting whites off the hook for decades of institutional racism. He cannot grasp how his black South African cousins are able to forgive the men who beat and killed their families
Anna and Langston’s ideological differences prompt volatile sparring, leading to mutual respect and friendship, and eventually ending in bed — an outcome foreordained by the movie’s reliance, despite its unique subject matter, on clichés. Most of Ann Peacock’s screenplay consists of platitudinal statements masquerading as dialogue. No one has conversations; they just take turns stating their political views.
We hear the horror stories told by the victims and survivors of apartheid, but they do not impact us nearly as much as they impact Anna, who cries often and suddenly throughout the film. I suspect the film wants to touch our hearts, but it does not have the arsenal necessary — engaging characters, engrossing dialogue — to achieve it.
It opens with shots of beautiful South African scenery interspersed with violent footage of white police harassing black civilians, and Boorman’s point is clear: This is a magnificent, serene country where such hatred and aggression seem tackily out of place. But the dichotomy extends further than Boorman would like it to, when exposure to his heartfelt sentiments fails to enlighten or uplift us. How can a movie full of such earnestness not connect? It is a paradox indeed.
C (1 hr., 44 min.; )