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We're her parents
on 11 March 2010
I heard about this film via a piece on the news in which the lady that this film is about was interviewed briefly. Needless to say I was intrigued to see the true life story of a woman born to white parents in South Africa who has the appearance of a black person. Unfortunately this film is not a so much a study of identity politics as it is a competent family drama. The film comes across as a TV drama more than a film for the big screen. It seems to lack the ambition needed for a feature film. I feel like the movie skirts around the pain that rejection by colour causes to people and instead wants the audience to assume the hurt and confusion this brings about. Much of the film relies on looks and facial expressions to convey emotions rather than dialogue or artistic representation. I think that it is this that causes the film to feel like a lightweight treatment of a serious topic. Not that this isn't a good film, it is and it is very worthy without being preachy. It just doesn't have the gravity that I expected.
The story telling has a neat twist in that it beings pretty much at the end of the events it portrays and then works its way back to the beginning until reaching its natural conclusion. The viewer is introduced to the very basics of apartheid South Africa and is then shown the protagonist, Sandra Laing who in fact appears mixed race than just black. There are all the scenes you would expect, the outrage her very existence caused to white South African society, Sandra's confusion, her family's struggle to cope with the prejudices of society and their own. Sandra's life is shown as a battle to understand herself and to preserve her dignity. This is also a tale of her two beleaguered parents especially her mother and their complex often painful relationship with their daughter. Sandra is depicted as a brave person, a stoic who carried on with her life in the face of much adversity. The film does end nicely and from an optimistic point of view. The sentiment is, I think, that where there is life something will happen and good will come after terrible hardship.
The acting cannot really be faulted. The best performance comes from Okonedo who plays Sandra with sensitivity and there is also sterling support from Neill.
I feel like the script is lacking somewhat. There are no explorations of identity and exclusion either in monologues or conversations. It is all fairly conventional speech that didn't produce any sense of wonder or sadness in me.
The film is centred mainly on the family home in the Transvaal with a few scenes in South Africa's largest city Johannesburg. The viewer is only shown glimpses of South African society at that time by way of scenes shot in a school, a government department, the horror of displacement etc.
I do feel that this is an important film and I note that it sadly did not attract any attention from the BAFTAs or the Oscars though it did win other awards. It probably merits a second viewing and it is preferable to a lot of the escapist nonsense currently on offer. A mature film from director Anthony Fabian.