Story of a Beautiful Country, 2004

During the post-screening Q&A of Story of a Beautiful Country, filmmaker Khalo Matabane stated that his inspiration for his self-described road movie indirectly came from the daily television broadcasts of the Truth and Reconciliation Hearings, observing that many of the witnesses to the struggle – the human testimonies that not only chronicled national history under apartheid, but also ushered the emergence of a new South Africa – were predominantly given by women. Evoking the familiar African expression, “Truth is a woman”, Matabane then sought to capture the complexity of his native country by interviewing a socially, culturally, intellectually, and economically diverse cross-section of South Africans, mostly women, through a multi-city journey using a familiar, South African mode of transportation: the minibus (that, as the filmmaker subsequently explains, was selected primarily because the vehicle provided a large, panoramic rear window with which to appropriately frame the majestic, native landscape). It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that film recalls the transcendent nomadism, intimacy, and cultural insight of the women passengers (and divorced, middle-class driver) in Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten.

Presenting a series of interviews (and performances) from a varied demographic of ordinary citizens, sight-seers, professionals, artists, and students, and interwoven through a radio talk show broadcast that intermittently conducts and engages discussion on opinion polls that attempt to gauge the state of racial relations within the nation, the film serves as an insightful, contemplative, and impassioned open invitation to cross-cultural dialogue on contemporary social issues in South Africa: a militant Boer farmer eager to reclaim the government to a whites-only rule; a young woman who questions the reality of true reconciliation in such a short period of time; an interracial couple who ponders the idea of starting a family; an ethnically multiracial young woman who proudly identifies herself using the socially discouraged, apartheid-era term “colored” to describe her mixed race heritage; a young, Afrikaaner woman who derives energy and inspiration from her newfound access to the nation’s diverse cultures; a silent, middle-aged woman who visits the grave of her son (a victim of post-apartheid racial violence by right-wing extremists); a privileged young woman of native African descent who (not surprisingly) foresees a bright future for the new South Africa even as she acknowledges that Johannesburg still remains largely segregated because of continued economic disparity. In expressing his gravitation in the final editing of the film towards episodes in which the interviewees exhibited moments of silence, incoherence, or prolonged deliberativeness in their responses, Matabane reflects, not only the inherently personal, indefinable process of reconciliation and closure, but also the ephemeral, inarticulable beauty of his beloved homeland.

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