It may sometimes feel protracted, but Korda’s bleak work about a black priest who tries to locate his estranged son in Johannesburg (shot on location) shows the fatalistic implications of apartheid at the personal level.
Cast: Canada Lee, Sidney Poitier, Charles Carson, Joyce Carey, Geoffrey Keen
Plot: In the backcountry of South Africa, black minister Stephen Kumalo journeys to the city to search for his missing son.
Awards: Won Bronze Bear (Berlinale); Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
Subject Matter: Moderate – Racism; Injustice; Apartheid
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Shot on location in South Africa in the time of the apartheid, Cry, the Beloved Country gives us an exceptional performance from Canada Lee (who passed away only a year later). It also stars Sidney Poitier in an early supporting role.
Because of the nefarious policy of segregation, whites and blacks cannot work together. So, for the production to continue, director Zoltan Korda had to pretend that Lee and Poitier were his servants.
Both play Black priests who realise that no amount of prayers can solve the hardship and prejudice that their fellow brothers and sisters suffer each day.
Lee’s character has an estranged son whom he tries to locate in Johannesburg, but his worst fears are realised when he finds out that his son has committed an unfathomable sin.
“Man that is born of a woman has but a short time to live and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down like a flower. He fleeth as it were a shadow and never continueth in one stay.”
Korda’s direction doesn’t quite stand out, nor is his film well-paced, but there’s a bleakness to the narrative that makes it mildly compelling. The perpetual expression of gloom, guilt and regret on Lee’s face also keeps us wanting to see how it all turns out.
Through this story of father and son, Cry, the Beloved Country shows the fatalistic implications of apartheid at the personal level. No one is intrinsically bad from the onset; they are forced to make bad decisions because of prejudicial social and political conditions.
While it may be a slight exaggeration to say that the film is powerful, it is at least an honest and emotional experience.