Dir. Ian Gabriel. SouthAfrica, 2004. 112mins.

There are two thingsgoing for Ian Gabriel's feature film debut Forgiveness. The first isthat it comes from South Africa, which promises to be the film festival flavourof the year (after a competition premiere at Locarno it plays in Toronto's South Africa: Ten YearsLater sidebar next month). Thesecond is its theme. As indicated by its title, Forgiveness re-opens thecontroversy surrounding South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committees,whose purpose was to assuage the fear and hatred in the past by promisingamnesty to whoever sincerely repented.

With such merits, one canexpect a courteous reception from every festival in sight and by politicallycorrect audiences, who will applaud the film's laudable intentions and turn apolite blind eye to its flaws.

For this account of theencounter between a former policeman and torturer and one of his victims'family is not only commendably brave and predictably bleak, but also stodgy,rather clumsy and stretched over two hours, with a plot, as it stands, thatcould barely sustain a one-hour TV drama.

Maybe the South Africantragedy is still too close to permit a deeper incision into wounds that arestill too tender to touch. In territory where such a highly respected andexperienced filmmaker as John Boorman couldn't quite make it with this year's Country Of My Skull, a first-timedirector like Gabriel could not have anything less than a very hard time.

A white man drives into afishing village, rents a room at the inn and contacts the priest who has beenapparently waiting for him. He is Tertius Coetzee (Arnold Vosloo from TheMummy films), a former South African policeman who has been granted hisamnesty at the TRC Committee but will not let things rest at that. Instead hehas come to the village to be introduced to the Grootboom family and ask fortheir personal forgiveness.

Ten years ago he hadarrested their son, Daniel and, after finding arms and explosives in his room,tortured the student , then shot him. Now he hopes they will personally forgivehim.

The parents (Zane Meas andDenise Newman) would rather see him leave as quickly as possible, but Daniel'syounger brother (Christo Davids) and sister (Quanita Adams) want vengeance, andcall in three of Daniel's former comrades. The challenge is to prevent Coetzeefrom leaving before the trio arrives. It turns out to be easier than theyexpected, as it soon becomes obvious that what Coetzee wants punishment, notforgiveness.

The script treats the abovestoryline as evangelic text on pardon and redemption, which the direction picksup on and then laboriously elaborates.

Symbolism is generouslyspread throughout, including the village's name (Paternoster: the Latin form ofthe Lord's prayer), a noose predominantly featured in one frame, recurringimages of a cemetery, eye-drops to clear the sight of the sinner, a lastsupper, birds freed out of traps and even a Judas, revealed in the last reel.

In the same spirit, thecharacters are written as stereotypes - the remorseful penitent, the grievingparents, the angry children - and performances are restrained, as if too muchindividual personality might prevent them from being as emblematic as theyshould.

The cast is striking: eachis a fit for his or her role, but do not realise their potential to dig deeperand bring a more personal interpretation to their roles.

Part of the blame may bewith Gabriel, an experienced music-video and commercials director, who appearsto be more comfortable with visuals than he is with actors. Making effectiveuse of the dusty desolated nature of the seaside location, he drains colourcompletely for the black and white introductory sequences, then allows it togradually and intermittently return, as if to reflect the state of thetormented souls on screen.

Prod cos: DV8 Films, Giant Film Production
Int'l sales:
Fortissimo Films
Cindy Gabriel
Greg Latter
Giulio Biccari
Ronnelle Loots
Prod des:
Leon van de Meuwe
Philip Miller
Main cast:
Arnold Vosloo, QuanitaAdams, Zane Meas, Denise Newman, Christo Davids, Jeremy Crutchley, EltonLandrew, Lionel Newton, Hugh Masebenza, Nan Hamilton