Hearts and Minds

Director: Ralph Ziman

This powerful feature debut by Ralph Ziman is the first major South African film to emerge since the end of apartheid. Making a timely impact as the new South Africa tries to come to terms with the atrocities committed by the old regime, Hearts and Minds provides a devasting account of the activities of the notorious death squads. Set during the turbulent eighties and apparently based on a real case, the film tells of a brutal but not unintelligent undercover police officer, Fourie (Danny Keogh), who is sent on a mission to infiltrate the ANC and assassinate one of its military leaders. Not trusted by the ANC, Fourie nevertheless develops a relationship with the man who is meant to kill. He is sent for training in Mozambique, Lusaka and even Moscow. Ironically, though, by the time he is ready to complete his mission, the old South African struggle is over. Nelson Mandela is freed and Fourie’s elite police unit quickly disbanded. Left to his own devices, the regenade cop feels let down by his government and is wracked with guilt about his past.
This absorbing story is used by Ziman to provide a fresh and provocative perspective on a country in crisis. Hearts and Minds opens with documentary-like images of the kind that are all too familiar from TV news reports. But the main body of the film consists of a dramatic depiction of what lies hidden beneath the surface, beyond the reach of TV cameras. Ziman has not produced a simplistic political tract but a psychologically astute and impressively mounted war film that’s clearly modelled on Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter. Like those two classics of seventies American cinema, Hearts and Minds is a journey into the heart of darkness.
Ziman paints a raw, wholly unblinkered picture of Southern Africa, steadfastly refusing to glamorise either black or white culture. One of the film’s great strengths is its vivid use of authentic locations, with the run-down city of Lusaka in Zambia providing a particularly apt backdrop to Fourie’s hellish existence. As the increasingly deranged central protagonist, Danny Keogh turns in a terrific performance, making this man of violence an all too credible figure.

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