Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Not a whole lot to say about this one. It's pretty good, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone later makes either a Nelson Mandela biography or a film about the struggle for equal rights in South Africa that surpasses it. The two aren't the same, even though one can occasionally get that impression, and a little more independence and distance probably wouldn't hurt.

One thing worth noting is that the passing of Nelson Mandela was a Big Deal in France, or at least Paris: Every newsstand had large signage advertising various magazines' special editions paying tribute, and a memorial message was projected on the Eiffel Tower every night. This may be a case of me having a biased sample; those magazine ads were some of the signage I could immediately read and comprehend, and the parts of Boston/Cambridge I walk through on a daily basis just don't have the sort of newsstands you find in Paris, London, or New York (the two in Harvard Square tend to blend in with the area's anonymous brick). But it's also a sign of how maybe Americans don't pay that much attention to the world outside their borders.

There were also coincidental reminders - or what I think were coincidental reminders - such as a photographic exhibit about present-day South Africa that was set up outside the Louvre. It's unlikely that was hastily assembled or reassembled upon Mandela's death. Similarly coincidental was that this movie appeared to open in France a week or so ahead of the United States (the 18th compared to the 25th). As a further bit of trivia, I noted that it is distributed by The Weinstein Company in the U.S. like Snowpiercer and The Immigrant, and it's interesting to me that those English-language movies are all opening in France first, an apparent result of the Weinsteins' award-centric scheduling.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 December 2013 at Regal Fenway #5 (first-run, DCP)

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a tidily-arranged biography; it organizes what people are interested in where Nelson Mandela is concerned and presents it in a manner that is respectful and stirring without feeling like it is getting bogged down in details or distorting through too many omissions. There may be better Mandela movies to be made, ones that do more to challenge one's assumptions or delve into the how of specific things being accomplished, but this feels like a solid primer.

After a brief scene presumably from Mandela's childhood in a rural village, the film picks up in 1940, where the young Mandela (Idris Elba) is a lawyer in Johannesburg, offending whites with his directness in the courtroom and impressing blacks with his charm and way with words. Though he is initially a reluctant activist, he eventually becomes active in the African National Congress. It hastens the end of his first marriage to Evelyn Mase (Terry Pheto), but later draws beautiful social worker Winnie Madikizela (Naomie Harris) to him. In the early 1960s, he and several ANC comrades are arrested and sentenced to life in prison.

As Nelson's decades-long incarceration arguably sharpens him into a shrewder politician, events on the outside make Winnie a more strident radical. Indeed, one might argue that Naomie Harris plays the more fascinating Mandela; Winnie is not the saint but the wife who cannot live up to his reputation, and her raw emotion and hostility can frequently be just as compelling as anything her husband does, all the more so because just as it is easy to understand where she is coming from, the audience can also see clearly - both via history and the way she and Nelson interact toward the end of the movie - that this is not what the country needs in the struggle's final stages. Harris handles every phase of Winnie's life very well; there's no point between the idealistic girl of the start and the hardened woman of the end where the audience doesn't feel this is the same person undergoing a real, complex evolution.

Full review at EFC.

1 comment:

KZ Audio Video said...

The life and achievement of Nelson Mandela is somewhat a good example of a great leader and a noble individual.
He is definitely one of a kind; his life biography should be portrayed with respect and dignity in making it a movie.