Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Movie Review: Skin

Skin ***
Directed by:
Anthony Fabian.
Written By: Helen Crawley & Anthony Fabian & Jessie Keyt & Helena Kriel.
Starring: Sophie Okonedo (Sandra Laing), Sam Neill (Abraham Laing), Alice Krige (Sannie Laing), Hannes Brummer (Leon Laing), Terri Ann Eckstein (Elsie Laing), Tony Kgoroge (Petrus Zwane), Bongani Masondo (Henry Laing), Ella Ramangwane (Young Sandra).

The case of Sandra Laing in South Africa is fascinating. She was born and raised there during Apartheid. Both her mother and father were white, but she looks an awful lot life a “colored”. There is a scene in the movie where she has been reclassified from white to colored, and her father Abraham (Sam Neill) is enraged and want to get her classified back. They take to a government agency that look at her, and perform tests – like putting a pen and her hair and having her shake her head to see if it comes out. Even though they win the fight, it is a hollow victory. It doesn’t really matter what it says on her ID card, she still looks black.

Anthony Fabian’s film Skin tells this story. At the heart is a wonderful performance by Sophie Okenedo who plays Sandra from the time she is a teenager until well into middle age. She loves her mother and father, and wants to please them. She goes on dates with white boys, who are either dull and clueless, or else sexually aroused by her and want to know if she’s black “all the way down”. She will never be truly excepted by the white community, many of whom suspect that her mother simply cheated on her husband with a black man – and in the years before DNA testing, there really was nothing they could do to prove it.

Then she falls in love with Petrus (Tony Kgoroge), and things seem to get better. He is a black man, but he is kind to her, and sees her for who she is. Her father is enraged, and wants nothing more to do with her. But for her, it’s easier this way. Although the government considers her white, no one else really does. It is easier to blend in the black community. But when things go wrong in the marriage, Petrus becomes violent, and blames it on the fact that he married a “white woman”. She takes her two kids and leaves. She is now alienated from both the black and white communities in South Africa. There is nothing else really out there.

Skin is a fascinating little movie that tells her story. Because Okenedo is so good in the lead role, it also becomes an emotional story that gets under your skin. Sam Neill is also quite good as the father who loves his daughter, but really does not know what to do. I do wish that director Anthony Fabian had made more the characters in the film as deep as these two are. Most of the characters are one note, or in the case of Petrus one note until he suddenly flashes and becomes another note, but never a full, complete person. Skin is a good film. But it could have been great.

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