Long Night's Journey into Day Movie Review

Aside from a keen enjoyment of the Special AKA song, "Free Nelson Mandela," I've never known much about South African apartheid. And, in my own defense, I don't think I'm entirely to blame for this. Sure, I've seen periodic newscasts over the course of my lifetime. Some kids in my high school used to like wearing pins denouncing apartheid and, as a general sort of thing, I opposed it too. But beyond that, it hasn't figured very strongly into my social consciousness. At least not as much as, say, the meanings of all those little emoticons people use to spice up their otherwise boring e-mails.

Frances Reid and Deborah Hoffman have made up for this, to a degree, with Long Night's Journey into Day. This potent 95-minute documentary visits the ongoing proceedings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), by which that nation administers amnesty for the horrors of apartheid crimes on a case-by-case basis. Packed start to finish with heart-wrenching interviews and bleak, sometimes gruesome, unedited footage of murdered bodies bleeding in the streets, Reid and Hoffman's film is a long-overdue eye-opener.

The picture examines four cases brought before the TRC; two in which whites were victimized, and two in which the victims were black. The sense of balance here is largely superficial because it must always be remembered that the blacks were victims before they were murdered, putting the white killers at a distinct disadvantage before the commission. Ironically, however, the film points out that the vast majority of amnesty applicants are black.

Among the subjects visited in this documentary are the parents of slain American Fullbright scholar Amy Biehl, as well as one of her killers, Mongezi Manqina, and his family. A South African security forces officer seeks amnesty for his part in the killing of the "Cradock 4," a group of black South Africans slain for alleged conspiracies against the state. And Robert McBride, another high profile figure in the later days of apartheid, faces the sister of one of his bombing victims before the commission.

What's most striking about these people is the mutual compassion they have for each other. Each of them, perpetrators and victims' families alike, seems genuinely sorrowful for the condition they share. It is refreshing and promising to see the hopeful spirit with which these people confront one another.

While it's obvious that this is only a microscopic view of the larger reconciliation process, the candid eyes of Hoffman and Reid reveal a larger picture of the South African predicament. And, like the reconciliation process itself, it is both painful and rewarding to see.

Journey on.


Comments

Long Night's Journey into Day Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 2000

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