The Good Fascist” attempts, with mixed results, to elucidate the tragic human factor in recent South African history under cover of a political thriller-cum-courtroom drama. Inflammatory material and succession of incredible events certainly hold the interest, but director-writer Helen Nogueira has not dramatized the emotional, intimate side of the story sufficiently to fully realize its potential power, and structure and some plot developments are a bit confusing, at least for Yank audiences. Due for wide release in its native country in October, pic would be limited to political and foreign film forums in North America.
Around the central figure of a guilt-ridden white liberal teacher, Nogueira presents the extremes of the white supremacist movement and black activists. Filmmaker is so busy getting all her information and incidents up on the screen that a strong POV never takes hold, leaving the viewer uncertain what to make of it all, except to register the usual outrage over apartheid and the nasty shenanigans of the far right.
Filipe and Suzannah Leal and their three kids arrive in Johannesburg from Mozambique after Portugal finally abandons its African colonies in 1974. Suzannah teaches at a racially mixed school, and takes a sympathetic interest in the frustrations of a passionately political black student named Tsepo. Meanwhile, Filipe is an easy mark for blonde Nazi Gisela, who recruits him to the cause with a little below-the-belt convincing.
A rash of right-wing bombings breaks out, and Filipe, who now seems like a zombie, leaves home without a word. He and Gisela are soon arrested for terrorism, and after about 40 minutes pic enters its trial phase, which allows one a look at the curious South African justice and journalism systems in action (although how accurately it is hard to know).
Legal proceedings are conducted privately, without press or public present, before three judges who look like they were born under Queen Victoria. Prosecution seems to have an air-tight case, given the cache of weapons found at the arrest site, and state seems anxious to prove that it can even-handedly mete out punishment to the right when it goes too far.
But charges against the devil-woman Gisela, who is clearly an Aryan ringleader, are suddenly and mysteriously dropped, leaving the dupe Filipe to meet his destiny in prison alongside Tsepo, who has also been flushed into the pen. Whom the state has no use for can easily be made to disappear.
Most scenes focus upon Suzannah and her response to the inexplicable events that overtake her life. Jana Cilliers is an appealing, warm actress, but her character’s reactions, as written, are difficult to fathom. She fails to challenge her husband when he takes off, more or less takes it in stride when he is revealed on TV to be a terrorist and adulterer, and has vague intentions when it comes to Tsepo.
Vagaries of the legal system lead to further head-scratching, so that Nogueira’s admirable effort to illuminate the gray areas of the South African dilemma are significantly mitigated by an uncertain narrative handling that often omits the scenes one most wants to see. Lumpen structure also provides no clue as to the time frame of the protracted succession of events.
Still, grim tale, which is based on a true story, holds a fair degree of gut-level impact, and it remains interesting to hear the diverse characters air their often misguided assumptions.
Sello Maake Ka-Nkube makes a favorable impression as the student who rejects even the most unassailable achievements of white culture.