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Monday, October 4, 2010

A Dry White Season(1989)

The story takes place in 1976 in South Africa, around the Soweto riots, during the Apartheid system that lasted from 1948 until 1994. Students of African origin are protesting against education in a vernacular medium. They don’t want to end up working as messengers, mine workers and gardeners. One of them in the rally, Jonathon is caught and whipped. His father, Gordon, a gardener is worried that his police record would ruin his future and so he approaches Ben(Donald Sutherland), his white boss for help. Turning a blind eye to the unjust practices of the government, he just says they must’ve had a reason.

The boys refuse to quit protesting and strike again. This time, however, it turns out really ugly. The cops open fire and many children are killed. Jonathon is taken to prison and beat up unto death. A troubled Gordon tries to take it up with the court with the help of a witness inside, but in vain. He’s arrested and tortured until he gives up the witness but enduringly, succumbs to his injuries. Ben, on the other hand, tormented being by his own conscience refuses to look the other way this time. He takes the matter into is own hands and approaches a Human Rights lawyer, McKenzie who suggests that he “chuck the lot”. He replies saying “That’s what I said to Gordon when his son was whipped, that’s what I said when his son was killed and now they’re both dead because of my neglect. I cannot give it up.”

There’re a few memorable courtroom scenes displaying blatant corruption and second class treatment by the legal system of the blacks. Unfortunately, that’s all there is, from the director, Euzhan Palcy. If you’re moved by anything in the film, it is its subject. It is a sensitive subject and anyone who’s intolerant to injustice will have some feeling evoked. The film simply has no tone and there is some safri duo kind of music played repeatedly in the background which is completely unnecessary. We’ve been told enough that it takes place in South Africa we don’t need the score to tell us that just as many times. Furthermore, there’re some unforgivable technical flaws in many aspects. She’s had a clear vision but been very negligent with respect to the small details. She just wanted the story told and she does it with little consistency.

All in all, I’ll have to call this a bad film that could’ve been worse if not for its on the mark acting. The real standout of the film is Donald Sutherland who turns in a terrific performance personifying perfectly the lead character’s political awakening.


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