Pick of the Litter – July 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Spider-Man: Far From Home

(Columbia/Marvel) Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Marisa Tomei. With the world forever changed following the events of the last two Avengers movies, Peter Parker finally seems to be going back to normal as he accompanies members of his class on a school trip to Europe. However, he can’t escape his role as Spider-Man as Nick Fury recruits him to fight a completely different kind of villain with an unusual ally. July 2

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love

(Roadside Attractions) Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen. For the legendary troubadour Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen was his muse. Most of the incredible love songs that he wrote over his career were about her. Their relationship was both passionate and challenging; it is captured on archival footage recently unearthed. July 5

The Farewell

(A24) Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Gil Perez-Abraham, Diana Lin. A Chinese-American family travels to the mother country to visit their grandmother who is dying of cancer. Following Chinese practice, the grandmother hasn’t been told of her medical condition, causing the young granddaughter issues in keeping the truth from her beloved grandma. July 12

Super 30

(Reliance) Hrithik Roshan, Amit Sadh, Nandish Singh, Virendra Saxena. The amazing but true story of an Indian mathematician who institutes the Super 30 program to help underprivileged youth to pass the entrance exams for the Indian Institute of Technology which could land them high-paying jobs they otherwise had no shot at getting. July 12

David Crosby: Remember My Name

(Sony Classics) David Crosby, Cameron Crowe, Henry Diltz, Graham Nash. Crosby’s music has helped two generations define themselves – with the Byrds in the Sixties and with CSNY in the Seventies. Now a septuagenarian himself in ill health and having alienated most of his peers, struggles to define himself. July 19

Honeyland

(NEON) Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov. The most honored film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Honeyland follows the last female beekeeper in Europe as her remote village is invaded by a family of nomadic beekeepers who not only threaten her own livelihood but also to upset the delicate natural balance of her village. July 26

Jirga

(Lightyear) Sam Smith, Muhammad Shah Majroh, Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad, Basheer Safi. An Australian soldier who accidentally killed a civilian during a raid returns to Afghanistan to make amends. This turns out to be an incredibly dangerous proposition as he is turned over to their law court – the Jirga – for judgement. July 26

Skin

(A24) Jamie Bell, Danielle Macdonald, Mike Colter, Bill Camp. This is based on the true story of Bryon Widner, a young man raised by racist skinheads and part of an ultra-violent white supremacy gang. Covered head to toe in racist tattoos, he begins to get his act together and change paths to one less violent and evil with the help of a black activist, the woman he loves and her three daughters. The film is currently available on VOD for DirecTV subscribers. July 26

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Skin


Skin

Sophie Okonedo ruminates on how ironic it is that her skin, so beautiful, could cause her so much trouble.

(2008) True Life Drama (Elysian) Sophie Okonedo, Alice Krige, Sam Neill, Ella Ramangwane, Hannes Brummer, Tembi Murake, Danny Keogh, Ben Botha, Nicole Holme, Lauren Das Neves, Jonathan Pienaar, Gordon Van Rooyan, Tony Kgoroge, Corbus Venter, Anna-Mart van der Merwe. Directed by Anthony Fabian

 

South Africa is a changed land. There are, however, many in the United States – particularly of the younger generation – who have little or no memory of the system of apartheid that reigned there until 1994 that relegated the black majority to second class status. Nearly all of us are unaware of the story of Sandra Laing, for whom apartheid did far more insidious damage.

Sandra (Ramangwane) was a well-adjusted little girl, adored by her shopkeeper parents Abraham (Neill) and Sannie (Krige). They are Afrikaans, living in the East Transvaal of South Africa in the 1950s, but while Abraham and Sannie are both lily-white, Sandra’s skin is darker-hued and her hair curly. Despite evidence to the contrary, she appears to have at least some African blood in here.

That is a problem in South African society. When Sandra’s parents drop her off in an all-white boarding school, after a short time during which she undergoes brutal teasing and extensive ostracizing, she is pulled from school by police officers and escorted home. Her parents are outraged – their daughter has been classified as colored, even though both parents are white. They go through extensive legal battles to reclassify her as white, finally getting a geneticist to testify that it is entirely possible that there is enough African DNA in even the whitest of Afrikaans to show up dominant unexpectedly. The Supreme Court at last classifies Sandra as white.

But that doesn’t make the now-teenaged Sandra (Okonedo) happy, although her parents are pleased as punch. Sandra knows she’s never going to be accepted by white South Africa, legal or not. On top of that, she falls in love with a black vegetable seller named Petrus (Kgoroge) who does business with her father.

However her father is not nearly as tolerant perhaps as you might think, and not only forbids the relationship but chases off Petrus with a shotgun. Like most willful daughters, this only strengthens Sandra’s resolve and soon enough she’s pregnant. When she elopes with her man to Swaziland, her father disowns her. They remain estranged for a very long time.

In the meantime, Sandra – cut off from her family and now living the life that most black members of South African society were experiencing with no running water, no electricity, no sanitation, low pay and few prospects. The pressure begins to take its toll on her marriage to Petrus, who grows more abusive until now with two small children, she is forced to leave.

She goes to find her parents only to discover that they no longer live where she grew up and for a time her attempts to find them are fruitless. However as the apartheid government falls and free elections are conducted for the first time, South African media takes an interest in the young woman who’d suffered so much because of a division that was really, when it comes down to it, only skin deep.

This is Fabian’s first effort and it shows in places. Some of his scenes dwell on minutiae a bit too much, be it cinematographically or through dialogue. That said, he captures the atmosphere of apartheid-era South Africa nicely; I’ve read comments from South African natives who have said so and far be it for me to disagree.

The main attraction here is Okonedo. Oscar-nominated for Hotel Rwanda, she proves that nomination was no fluke, turning in a performance that is nuanced and believable. Her Sandra shows the scars of being thought inferior to the point where she partially believes it, before she is forced to make a choice to save her kids from her abusive husband.

Neill and Krige, both tested veterans, perform pretty well although Neill is a bit over-the-top as the somewhat bombastic Abraham. There’s some scenery chewing going on, but not so much that it becomes irritating – it’s merely noticeable. Kgoroge  also turns in a fine performance, although he tends to be overshadowed in his scenes with Okonedo.

This is one of the tragic stories of apartheid, and that it hasn’t gotten virtually any coverage in the States is a bit of a crime. This might have been the movie to rectify that but it wasn’t picked up by a major or even a major indie distributor, getting barely any theatrical release in the States and relegated to cable where it can be found even as we speak. It is worth seeking out though if for no other reason for Okonedo’s performance.

WHY RENT THIS: The story is extremely moving. Okonedo gives a tremendous performance.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The pacing drags occasionally.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of sexuality and a little bit of violence, but the thing to remember here is that the subject matter is on the adult side and might be too much for immature sensibilities.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie won 19 international festival awards and was nominated for six mainstream awards.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Data not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tsotsi

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Snow White and the Huntsman