Black And White

South Africa in the mid-nineties. Nelson Mandela is out of prison and in the executive office. There is racial dissension. The only thing that will bring the oppressed and the oppressors together is rugby. Or so goes the theory presented by Clint Eastwood in his shmaltzy Invictus. I have my own theory after seeing this movie. If Eastwood directs a movie and is in it, it’s a masterpiece (see Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby, the Unforgiven), if he ain’t in it, forget it. And he surely isn’t in Invictus.

Could it be that Clint, the actor, won’t allow any sentimental horse crap in a movie his ugly mug is in? Or maybe someone else is actually directing the movies Clint doesn’t star in. How else do you explain the sharp contrast between the noirish no-nonsense Gran Torino and the meandering Invictus, which goes for so many unwarranted tears it would make Stephen Spielberg blush.

I’m not sure which is worse that the movie never really explains the rules of rugby, that they never tell us what the word Invictus means, or showing that winning the Rugby championships over big bad New Zealand ended all the hard feelings from apartheid. You mean black people like rugby too? Oops, maybe we shouldn’t have treated them like animals for the past fifty years.

If you’re looking for something that deals with the human condition with a bit more complexity check out The White Ribbon. It  proves the axiom that if a movie is in black and white, subtitled and still being released in the States it has to be good.

This foreign flick won best film at the Cannes Film Festival. It tells the story of a small German village in the months preceding World War I. In a little under two and a half hours you get to know an entire village as they try to uncover which one of their neighbors is a saboteur. Children are lynched, crops are mutilated, and everyone is pointing fingers.

After seeing this movie I stayed as the writer/director Michael Haneke was interviewed. Through an interpreter he claimed  to try his hardest to avoid using other films as  touchstones. This was surprising since I and other audience members saw Ingmar Bergman’s influence all over The White Ribbon. From its questioning of what purity might mean to the heavy dosages of symbolism to leaving it open to who was behind the dastardly deeds, it seemed this was a lost classic from the Swedish master.

Some might be frustrated that questions are left unanswered when the credits come on. Personally, I like things to be left open to interpretation. Unless, of course, it involves not telling us what you’re supposed to do in rugby.


4 thoughts on “Black And White

  1. If I wanted to see a tutorial on rugby I would look for a documentary or go to a “clinic”. This film, I do believe, chronicles the breaking down of prejudices between the two races. And, the man who sought and fought to achieve that goal (pun notwithstanding).

    I don’t believe that I have seen ANY football films that break down the rules so that foreign and non-football fans can “get it”. The rugby scenes for me were some of the most exhilarating sports action scenes I have seen in a movie for I don’t know how long.

    I am a big Eastwood fan. Loved all the movies you mentioned. Except for Gran Torino. For my money THAT film had way more “hanky” moments and false notes than any of his films.

    • Perhaps I was being overzealous in my praise of Gran Torino. But at no point did that movie feel false, whereas to me Invictus really did. In Gran Torino you got to know all the characters. There was no cheating to pull the heartstrings such as showing a bunch of apparently racist cops forgiving a Black kid for being Black because their nation won a rugby game. No Maids who aren’t fleshed out, and only used as another example of reconciliation.

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