Review: ‘His Big White Self’

Filmmaker Nick Broomfield comes close to balancing his gonzo oncamera style with an equally disingenuous subject in docu profile "His Big White Self." Dropping in on prickly white supremacist Eugene Terreblanche 15 years after "The Leader," helmer offers a cogent history of apartheid and a witheringly frank look at an irrelevant racist in decline.

Shambling soundman and first-person filmmaker Nick Broomfield comes close to balancing his gonzo oncamera style with an equally disingenuous subject in docu profile “His Big White Self.” Dropping in on prickly white supremacist Eugene Terreblanche 15 years after “The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife” — the pic that went a long way toward refining Broomfield’s distinctive style — helmer offers a cogent history of apartheid and a witheringly frank look at an irrelevant racist in decline. Both pics are already available in Blighty as a two-disc special edition, suggesting fest and tube action will eclipse theatrical biz.

In the months leading up to the 1991 repeal of apartheid, “The Leader” presented Terreblanche as a blowhard, his driver JP a blind follower eager for race war, and JP’s wife Anita a chillingly amoral racist in the guise of frumpy housewife. Pic so enraged its subject that the helmer received death threats, one of which he was fairly sure came from JP.

So, per Broomfield, no one was more surprised than he to be drawn back into their world, a trip prompted by Terreblanche’s 2004 release from jail after serving three years of a six-year sentence for beatings of black men. Vowing in his trademark sped-up, inflectionless narration to get “behind the beer bellies and the badly trimmed beards” of those still espousing the repressive ideology of the Leader’s now-marginalized Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), the helmer reconnects with JP, now estranged from Terreblanche, divorced from Anita and surprisingly pleased to see his old nemesis.

But where the first film gleefully took the starch out of bigotry in general and lunkheaded Terreblanche in particular, “Self” is more subversive in its methodology, and its goals.

The AWB’s hatemongering was violent and amoral, with a very real human toll, but the group has been rightfully cast by history as little more than a speed bump on the road to democracy in South Africa. Thus, when a disguised Broomfield finally corners Terreblanche for an interview, all the bigot can do is read lame prison poetry.

In the same vein, heavy smoker JP seems deflated: “I was promised a revolution, which never came.” Only Anita seems to have revised her thinking, calling equality “the way forward” and tenderly treating the cut foot of a black child.

Hand-held tech package is bolstered by generous passages of archival footage. Pic was shot by Broomfield’s partner and sometimes co-director, Joan Churchill. Helmer’s fans will recall he’s also done docu sequels of sorts to films on the Lancashire police and serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

His Big White Self

U.K.

Production

A More4 presentation of a Lafayette Films production. Produced, directed by Nick Broomfield.

Crew

Camera (color/ B&W), Joan Churchill; editor, Peter Christelis; sound, Broomfield. Reviewed on DVD, Sydney, Australia, June 11, 2006. (In SilverDocs Film Festival, Silver Spring, Md.) Running time: 92 MIN. (Afrikaans, English dialogue)
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