Wednesday, August 15, 2007

GOODBYE BAFANA

GOODBYE BAFANA
Joseph Fiennes, Dennis Haysbert, Diane Kruger

"Based on the memoirs of Nelson Mandela's prison guard"

CineManila
Cinema 7, Gateway Cineplex


The true story based on the book written by James Gregory, the white South African prison guard of Nelson Mandela is a simple film which deals with sensitive subject matters. Discrimination, racism and the effect of the Apartheid policy during those turbulent years in South Africa's history but more importantly it is an interesting case study of one man's character development.

Joseph Fiennes portrays James Gregory from the time he was a young officer assigned to Robben Island till the time that Nelson Mandela is released after serving a 27 year prison term. As a young officer, he is still quite idealistic and full of 'hatred' towards the black South Africans. He is ably supported by his ambitious wife who is portrayed by the German actress, Diane Kruger of "Troy" fame. Gregory's ability to speak the local dialect puts him in close proximity whenever Winnie Mandela visits her husband to basically spy on their conversations for any traces of subversive activities. Eventually, his conscience as a human being prevails, we bear witness to the compassionate nature of Gregory as a special bond develops between the two main characters. The film allows us to see a different but rather unknown facet of Mandela, that of a prisoner as opposed to the larger than life figure that he has come to symbolize. But it is rather limited because after all, this film is about James Gregory's stint as a prison guard in Robben Island.

A subtle yet effective portrayal by Joseph Fiennes gives his character as well as the film some heartfelt emotions. Everything from the way he dresses to his South African accent is cleverly executed by Fiennes who in my opinion is the better actor between the two brilliant (Ralph) Fiennes brothers. His acting style doesn't involve over the top theatrics nor does he have a strikingly attractive demeanor yet he always effectively portrays each character with gusto. The only issue in this film anyway is how Gregory didn't seem to age much visibly as the years rolled by.

Dennis Haysbert's version of Mandela is good but not as forceful as I wanted it to be. He somehow lacked a certain charisma which seems to exude from the real Mandela. But as I said earlier, this isn't a film exclusively about Mandela so I guess Haysbert can be forgiven for it.

The setting is a bit constricting as it is limited to the prison island, the quarters of the Gregory family as well as the cramped prison cell of Nelson Mandela. Eventually, it evolves to the other places where Mandela was incarcerated throughout the years. But it provides a good solid background as the real story isn't about the island but the respectful bond which formed between a prisoner and his jailer. A grainy and 70s tone envelops the entire film which helps in making the events more authentic and realistic. The plot does move at a slow pace but it is still cleverly edited so the audience doesn't really get too bored watching it. Well at least I wasn't bored.

One question though that etched in my mind as the end credits rolled by after they flashed on screen what happened to the real Gregory and his family is - who exactly is Bafana and what happened to him? I think the film makers should have done some more research on the little boy, Bafana whom Gregory befriended when they were both kids. It does make me wonder if he really existed or if the film makers just added him as some sort of symbolic character. An illusion to show that Gregory as a person wasn't entirely a bigot since he himself grew up playing with 'the enemy' so to speak. It would have been more significant if they just mentioned even in passing about Bafana but I guess with Apartheid tearing the country apart during those tumultuous years, it would be impossible to trace him down, that is if he really did exist in the first place.

Fair enough!

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