The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in 1995 by Mandela’s Government of National Unity to collectively witness and, in some cases, grant amnesty to perpetrators of human rights violations committed by a system.
Its work raised legitimate questions on officially prescribed reconciliation. Forgiveness is also an individual act, even within a political context. It’s this confluence that lies at the heart of Zulu (from Jérôme Salle) as it follows black South African police captain Neuman (Forest Whitaker) from childhood trauma at the hands of ANC rival Inkhata through the carnage of post-Apartheid politics.
Now in his forties, Neuman works in Cape Town’s violent crime department, hurrying between scenes of bloodied depravation with only his mother, two colleagues and a prostitute to inspire weary affection. Linking a string of vicious killings to a new street drug, Neuman and his colleague Epkeen (Bloom) uncover evidence that points to a shockingly cynical vision of white supremacy. Amidst scenes of veracious brutality and private collateral tragedy, Neuman is forced to test the limits of his reconciliation mantra.
Both Whitaker and Bloom inhabit their roles with conviction: a considerate black South African partnered with a white man whose rock-hard abs and spiked coffee also cover Apartheid scars. Shooting his way from the slums to a desert showdown strongly reminiscent of John Ford, Salle would have done well to follow Ford’s more readable plots – and measured camera. Layering economics atop politics with a central character sinned against by black, not white, South Africans and bigotry espoused across the board by individuals and institutions, it’s hard to track Salle’s steps – and not only because there’s so much blood on the floor.
If he’s making the point that reconciliation comes unstuck when things get personal, it feels a lot more like default than intent, leaving viewers to seek the truth for themselves. It’s there, but well congealed.
Zulu | Directed by Jérôme Salle (France, South Africa 2013) with Forest Whitaker, Orlando Bloom. Starts May 8
Originally published in issue #127, May 2014.