The novel by Alan Paton is one I meant to read when I was younger but it was already old and I never got around to it.  The movie came out when I was not yet ten and I missed a generation’s early knowledge of the situation in South Africa.  This black and white film seems a literal rendering of the events in the novel but the starkness of style is fitting for its subject.  In the beginning we meet two older men, one a poor black minister in a country town, the other is a white landowner struggling to keep his farm prosperous.  Both men have sons that have gone off to Johannesburg.  The minister has also a daughter and she too has gone to the city.  He receives a letter bidding him to make a journey to the city.  He finds his daughter and she has fallen into prostitution.  He cannot find his son.  A priest (Sidney Poitier) from a city church helps the old man in his search of back alleys and shantytowns.  They find a young woman the son has abandoned; she is pregnant.  The son and some others break into a white man’s house for robbery and shoot the owner.  It is the son of the white farmer, who now must bring his wife to the city for the funeral.  They find an essay their son was writing about the deep injustices of the South African system.  The minister’s son is arrested and put in prison, where the father visits him.  He tries to make things right for his daughter and the woman his son abandoned.  The court sentences the son to be hanged while his accomplices are set free for lack of evidence.  The father arranges for his son to marry the abandoned girl and will bring her back to his home to help raise his grandchild.  The two fathers meet unexpectedly and there is tense forgiveness from the white father.  They all return to the country and the white farmer’s wife dies abruptly.  The minister sends flowers.  The white farmer, profoundly changed by all this, proposes to build a church in his wife’s memory and the black minister will preside in this sanctuary.  The black minister climbs a hill into the sunrise.  A print legend looks to a still distant dawn when equality comes to this troubled land.  Canada Lee brings extraordinary dignity to his role as the minister.  The message here is that the entire culture of black South Africa has been destroyed by the European occupiers and that many years of healing will be needed before the field is leveled.  As usual in this time, the situation is filtered through the consciences of white people of good will.  Would there ever have been a Hollywood movie of Things Fall Apart?

Cry, The Beloved Country  (1995)