The Forgiven, by Michael Ashton, Roland Joffe and directed by the latter
The Forgiven can be dismissed as average, but it can also be cherished as a film about values, humanity, transcendence, vitality, forgiveness, role models as well as monsters and incredible scenes and acts.
It all takes place in South Africa, after the end of the abominable apartheid regime, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is working to establish the truth about the past atrocities, while trying to keep peace and have the former oppressors and their victims live with each other without retribution.
After seeing this film, one may appreciate the fact that the situation is not much worse in South Africa, which it could have been, considering the potential for an explosive, ample movement to pay back the former rulers, responsible for atrocities and ordeals depicted in the motion picture.
As it is, this country has experienced a lot of hardship, even after the departure of the white leaders, with the failed leaders that came after the extraordinary, otherworldly Nelson Mandela, from Mbeki and his stupid belief in curing AIDS with garlic (it was not this plant, but something similar) to the recently deposed corrupt Jacob Zuma, who has had public money used for works on his mansion, swimming pool and faced hundreds of counts of wrongdoing.
The hero of The Forgiven is not the man from the title, Piet Blomfeld aka Eric Bana alias The Forgiven, but Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the head of the Commission for Reconciliation Commission, but also a role model in so many ways, without taking into account his position as a religious leader.
This man has almost all of the Character Strengths identified by psychologists and some more:
Integrity, Bravery – he and the commission have been under threat repeatedly- Vitality, Perseverance, Love, Kindness, Social Intelligence, Humanity, Hope, Gratitude, Humor- one example is when he laughs at the ease with which people seem to hate and love him-Humility and Modesty- even considering that he is “His Grace” he approaches everyone with respect and deference, Pity and Forgiveness, Prudence, Self –regulation, Citizenship, Leadership, Fairness, Justice, Wisdom, Perspective, Open –mindedness…
Forest Whitaker, the Academy Award winner for his performance in the role of another African leader, situated at the other extreme, the brutal, heinous Idi Amin in the excellent The Last King of Scotland, has a very challenging task in rendering the image of His Grace, Archbishop Desmond Tutu in this feature.
The writer- director Roland Joffe could be argued to have had much more success in giving audiences motion pictures like: The Killing Fields, The Mission, The Scarlet Letter and Vatel.
Eric Bana has the role of the ultimate monster, Piet Blomfeld, a man whose role might be to render Desmond Tutu ever more unreal, out of this world, considering that the antithesis could not be more evident, when the saintly, kind, generous, sensitive, humane, tolerant, modest, peaceful archbishop meets with the beastly, cursing, violent, ferocious, animalic, monstrous, inhumane mass killer.
One caveat would be that Blomfeld has gone past the point of pity or compassion and his presence is so loathsome that it can only hurt the film, making the squirm at his presence on screen, his foul language, despicable presence, even after the plot encourages one to sympathize with this antihero.
For this devil experiences, albeit slowly in a doubtful manner, some kind of redemption and need to share with the others what he and others have done under the apartheid regime, perhaps with the wish of paying back some debts and making others take at least part of the blame for the killings and torture.
In many ways it makes sense to widen the scope and have all responsible punished for their crimes, including another abhorrent character, Francois Schmidt, who had been a killer, but looks like escaping any discomfort, until Blomfeld decides to redress this, first by almost taking his ear off and then by recording some tapes.
Racist as he was and maybe he still is, only changing to some extent, the antihero is clashing with Africans who resent, hate him for what he did to late members of their community and they accept the offer of money and other privileges that are offered by Schmidt if they kill Piet Blomfeld and silence him forever.
The white supremacist had been trained to fight and when Benjamin, a young recruit, is sent to knife him finds it easy to not just defend himself, but send the other to the floor of the toilet and then take him to his adversaries, experiencing a paradoxical, hard to believe spiritual conversion, as he defends his attacker, talks about the fact that they want to kill him, but it is not the best solution and ending up in a rather strange situation.
It appears that young Benjamin, who is only seventeen (or was he even younger?), would die, unless there is a person that would protect him, in what looks like a traditional, medieval ritual, and the racist, murderous Blomfeld is the one who claims that he wants to be the “father” of the man who would die otherwise.
This another instance where part of the audience might reject the situation as farfetched- indeed, from the rating the feature has so far, the public has not liked The Forgiven-or just rejoice this Redemption and late change of heart experienced by this vicious, odious, atrocious individual, who then calls Archbishop Desmond Tutu, because he wants to testify and even if he may have trouble doing that, the truth is that what is heard in the investigations appalls victims, relatives and public at large.
There is an extraordinary act of forgiveness, when a mother decides to extend a hand to Hansi Coetzee, a man who had been responsible, engaged with others in horrific, unpardonable murders and tortures, which are described in recorded testimony that specifies ghastly details…after killing their victims, burning their bodies, the monsters would have a…barbecue.