More Truth than Reconciliation in Post-Apartheid Revenge Flick
In English and Afrikaans with subtitles
Running time: 112 minutes
Studio: California Newsreel
Film Review by Kam Williams
Excellent (4 stars)
Tertius Coetzee’s (Arnold Vosloo) was tormented by the guilt he felt over atrocities he committed on behalf of South Africa’s repressive apartheid regime. So, the disgraced police officer testified before the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, expecting to cleanse his conscience of the torture he perpetrated.
But when he continued to be plagued by memories of his role in the murders of African National Congress (ANC) activists, Coetzee decided to visit the family of one of his victims, Daniel Grotbroom, hoping to receive additional absolution that might help him finally find peace. So, he traveled sand-swept roads across a barren landscape to the tiny fishing village of Paternoster, a so-called ’colored’ community, where he has an emotional meeting with the 21 year-old freedom fighter’s parents.
Although the couple is still grieving, they entertain their son’s killer in their home. We learn that Daniel’s nearly-mute mother, Magda (Denise Newman), hasn’t left the house in the three years since his death, and that his embarrassed father, Hendrik (Zane Meas), is in denial about his son’s having joining the revolution.
After apologizing awkwardly, the contrite assassin selfishly insists on relating the gory details of Daniel’s final hours on Earth, presumably because he still has not achieved any sense of catharsis. This doesn't sit well with his brother, Ernest (Christo Davids), who proceeds to crack a pot over Coetzee’s cranium. Then, when the stranger announces his plans to leave town, another sibling, sister, Sannie (Quanita Adams), intervenes, suggesting that he spend the night because his continued presence would help her parents to recover.
But what Coetzee doesn't know is that Sannie has a hidden agenda, for she has secretly already summoned some of her brother’s former ANC comrades to exact a measure of revenge. And the question of whether they will arrive in time supplies the palpable tension permeating Forgiveness, a riveting drama which presents a plausible picture of a South Africa where black-white relations remain edgy in spite of the blanket amnesty conferred by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Equal parts mystery and morality play, the movie effectively makes the point that the past can't be so easily erased by a simple act of repentance, however sincere.