Fifty-three years ago this week, a talent invasion hit U.S. movie theaters in the form of “another fresh and fetching British film,” so said The New York Times’ Bosley Crowther, in which its director John Boorman, “who is new to moviemaking, has given it an amazing, fascinating off-beat pace.” The film was a larkish, lighthearted contemporary commentary on modern musical times, The Dave Clark Five vehicle Having a Wild Weekend (1965, known in its native country, where it opened a month before, as Catch Us If You Can). But if the merry musicians were the headliners intended to draw moviegoers, the genuinely protean talent heralded by its arrival was Boorman, the man who would eke out an extraordinary half-century body of cinematic work across genres, continents, thematic concerns and bold stylistic flourishes. How can one not number items in his output to tally among the most audacious of crime thrillers (Point Blank, 1967), wilderness adventures (Deliverance, 1972; The Emerald Forest, 1985), visionary horror, science-fiction and historical fantasy (Zardoz, 1974; Exorcist II: The Heretic, 1977; Excalibur, 1981), cutting contemporary comedy (Leo the Last, 1970; Where the Heart Is, 1990), geopolitical intrigues (The General, 1998; The Tailor of Panama, 2001), and wartime stories both stark (Hell in the Pacific, 1968) and personal (Hope and Glory, 1987; Queen & Country, 2014)?
Fourteen years ago, he focused his attention on a tough and truth-based subject, the 1995-96 South African Truth and Reconciliation Hearings which followed that torn nation’s break from its shameful apartheid history, with the powerful drama In My Country (2004), filmed on location in Cape Town and surrounding environs and assembling a supporting cast consisting of South Africa’s most distinguished players. Utilizing Afrikaner literary icon Antjie Krog’s 1998 memoir Country of My Skull, which chronicled the proceedings with all of its painful and startling revelations as well as the tumultuous sessions of testimony involving victims of racist domination and torture along with their oppressors seeking understanding and forgiveness, adaptor Ann Peacock fashioned a screenplay utilizing two romantically involved fictional journalists – The Washington Post reporter Langston Whitfield and local broadcaster/writer Anna Malan (somewhat styled after the real-life Krog) – as audience-surrogate explorers into dark territorial examinations of human souls and a divided national character. That Whitfield and Malan are played by the formidable Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche ups the emotional stakes in a story wherein a land possessed of such amazing beauty (photographed splendidly by cinematographer Seamus Deasy, shooting the third of five Boorman projects across a two-decade period) must drag its shamefully brutal history to light (personified most vividly by the defiantly racist, accused human rights abuser, army Colonel De Jager, incarnated by the great Brendan Gleeson, star of Boorman’s The General) before its multicultural populace can move forward in a healing spirit of unification. The political, the personal and the passionate are all germane to In My Country’s impact as, The Christian Science Monitor’s David Sterritt observed, “Boorman treats this moving, important subject with restraint, tact, and candid views of horrors suffered by the nation.” The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Wilmington added that “Boorman, the creator of Deliverance and Point Blank, is an expert at adventure or crime stories with a moral but unsentimental center, and this is a film and project about which he obviously cares deeply. It's less adventure film, though, than mystery. And the mystery lies both in the revelation of apartheid's gruesome facts and the deeper puzzle of why they occurred. To err is human, the story tells us. And to understand, if not completely to forgive, can be divine.” Twilight Time’s splendid In My Country hi-def Blu-ray includes a Boorman Audio Commentary, Deleted Scenes and perceptive interviews with six creative team members allied in their commitment to assembling the pieces of this still troubling puzzle. It debuts September 18. Preorders open September 5.