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The Truth & Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion (TRC) — and the way at­tempted to un­cover some of apartheid’s most hor­rific atroc­i­ties through the tes­ti­mony of both per­pe­tra­tors and wit­nesses — is a piv­otal, al­beit con­tro­ver­sial, part of the SA story.

Any­one who reads the tran­scripts of the ev­i­dence led in those hear­ings, or any of the mul­ti­ple ex­cel­lent books writ­ten about the TRC, would know that the way it un­folded, the ev­i­dence it un­cov­ered and the at­tempts to sub­vert its in­ves­ti­ga­tions make for com­pelling sub­ject mat­ter.

But clearly not for the mak­ers of The For­given.

In­stead of us­ing the vast wealth of in­for­ma­tion avail­able on the TRC to con­struct an in­formed and com­pelling story about a truly ex­cep­tional mo­ment in SA his­tory, they fo­cus their truly ter­ri­ble film on a fic­tional re­la­tion­ship between Arch­bishop Des­mond Tutu (played by For­est Whi­taker) and fic­tional “apartheid as­sas­sin” Piet Blom­field (played by Eric Bana).

At the end of this cringe­wor­thy 110 min­utes of my life — min­utes that I will never get back — I had only one thought: please may Tutu never ever see this movie.

It is, much like the sto­ries told by a patho­log­i­cal liar, in­ter­wo­ven with fac­tu­ally ac­cu­rate el­e­ments, but they are so dis­torted by the of­ten lu­di­crous plot that the story seems more like nar­ra­tive vomit than the clean purg­ing of this coun­try’s dis­turb­ing his­tory.

Blom­field’s back story, which at­tempts to ex­plain why he ended up a psy­chotic and racist killer, is so weird and non­sen­si­cal that I’m still not en­tirely sure what it ac­tu­ally is.

He’s an AWB mem­ber who was it ap­par­ently a mem­ber of a de­fence force “hit squad” based at Vlak­plaas. And one of his fel­low “hit squad” mem­bers is also a guard at Pollsmoor Prison — where, ac­cord­ing to the film’s mak­ers, the cor­rec­tional ser­vices de­part­ment au­thor­i­ties in demo­cratic SA deny Tutu the right to see him.

All of which makes no sense. What­so­ever.

Tutu needs Blom­field to as­sist him in solv­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of a young cou­ple — who, like Blom­field, are a fic­tion­alised mashup of sev­eral dif­fer­ent atroc­ity vic­tims.

Watch­ing the un­fold­ing drama of this quest, which mostly in­volves Bana call­ing Whi­taker the k-word and Whi­taker adopt­ing the ex­pres­sion of a con­fused wal­rus, is ag­o­nis­ing.

Not be­cause of the film’s mul­ti­ple for­ays into gra­tu­itous vi­o­lence, but be­cause the con­flict cre­ated between these two cen­tral char­ac­ters feels deeply con­trived, and in­au­then­tic.

This movie does a huge dis­ser­vice to an as­pect of SA his­tory that, now more than ever, needs to be re­vis­ited and grasped. In all its com­plex­ity and messi­ness.

Again, I re­ally do hope that none of the peo­ple in­volved in the mo­men­tous and al­most im­pos­si­ble project of the TRC ever sees how badly it has been un­der­stood by this film. The thought of that is far more gut-wrench­ing to me than this ter­ri­ble movie.

A new film based on the TRC does a dis­ser­vice to SA his­tory, writes Karyn Maughan

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