Bopha! (1993) Poster

(1993)

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7/10
Just doesn't click, but still an important film
BrandtSponseller9 June 2005
Although Bopha! is somewhat moving, and it's certainly about an important historical subject, it should have been much more moving than it is, and I don't give films extra points for their non-filmic references, no matter how important the subject is. Looking at the film purely as a self-contained artwork, it has a fair share of problems, including characterization and other script deficiencies as well as oddly flat direction.

The setting of the film is South Africa in 1980, in the Moroka section of Soweto, on the outskirts of Johannesburg (although in reality it was shot in Zimbabwe, since Apartheid had not yet ended while filming--that didn't occur until 1994). Historically, 1980 was somewhat of a middle period of internal opposition to Apartheid, which the South African government had begun to press even harder in the 1960s, leading to increasing protests and demonstrations and their attendant violence throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Bopha! was originally a play by South African writer Percy Mtwa, and was earlier made into a semi-documentary television program that aired on PBS in the United States in 1986. Compared to the play, the film, directed by Morgan Freeman (his only directorial turn to date) significantly changes many of the characters, much of the story, and even the ending, which here is appropriately far more troubled and ambiguous than the "ray of hope" ending of the play.

The story is centered on Micah Mangena (Danny Glover) and his family, wife Rosie (Alfre Woodard) and son Zweli (Maynard Eziashi). Micah is trying to better his family with his income as a policeman, but it's a time when black policeman are seen as traitors to their own people, since they're enforcing the laws of Apartheid. The negative attitude towards them, approaching ostracism and in some cases lynching, even carries over to policeman's families. Despite the risk and periodic threats, Micah hopes that Zweli will follow in his footsteps, as it is a more desirable choice than the alternatives, and at first, Zweli plans to. But in school, Zweli's friends gain courage to organize protests, and Zweli helps them out by arranging a meeting with a famed local anti-Apartheid activist, Pule Rampa (Malick Bowens). Rampa is considered a "terrorist" by the authorities, and merely meeting to discuss such political issues is against the law, so turmoil quickly follows and ends up forcing father and son on different sides of the law.

Although Micah gets a lot of screen time and we learn something about the character, Freeman is unable to overcome an emotional distancing that makes it difficult to become invested as a viewer. Rosie and Zweli get less screen time, and feel even more distant. This especially hurts in the case of Zweli, as his character arc is essential to the impact of the film. For a large chunk of the middle, Zweli inexplicably disappears. The more minor characters can become completely lost and it is not always easy to keep track of them. It's difficult to not feel that Marius Weyers, as Micah's boss Van Tonder--the mostly understanding white guy, and Malcolm McDowell, as the villainous De Villers, aren't largely wasted. This is not to say that the events in the film involving all of the principal characters are not impactful, or that the actors do not turn in decent performances, but there just seems to be something relatively ineffable missing in the "chemistry" between performance, direction, script and editing.

I found it odd that one reviewer described Bopha! as an "action" film. Yes, there are scenes of protests turning to violence, there are scenes of protesters running from the police, being chased and occasionally being shot and so forth, but these are not at all the focus of the film. Far more often, Freeman goes about his realist drama story very deliberately. Some viewers--my wife was one--may feel that the film is too slow. And consider that my wife is from South Africa--she lived in the government's Indian settlement, Lenasia, right next to Soweto, and experienced similar events! So it's not that she was not interested in the material.

Freeman's directorial style is fairly pedestrian. He blocks scenes and conveys actions clear enough. He is rarely "showy" with his cinematography, although there are a couple shots of nice scenery, a nice wide shot of the township standing in for Soweto, a couple shots of sunsets and such. But this is a film that wants to hinge solely on its performances and on a heart-wrenching story in a complex time of turmoil. There are moments, such as a death in jail, a burned structure, characters who are shot, shot at and stabbed, and so on that should be as powerful as just about anything one can see in the cinema. But something about the story just doesn't click. It just feels too lightweight for what it should be, and consider this--I'm a viewer who very easily becomes emotional with such material; I very easily cry when I watch films. Unfortunately, I didn't shed a tear while watching Bopha!

Still, the subject and its handling are competent enough, and the historical content important enough to warrant a slight recommendation, especially for anyone who wants or needs to get a small glimpse into what Apartheid was about. The best film about Apartheid-era South Africa has not yet been made but needs to be. Until then, Bopha! and a handful of others, such as Cry Freedom (1987) and Mandela (1987), will have to suffice.
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9/10
Apartheid from inside the black community
Dr_Coulardeau1 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
1980, South Africa. It is the time of the rebellion of all townships against Afrikaans and apartheid. The originality of this film is not to only look at the savage brutality of the South African whites but to look at the reality in a small township just before this rebellion and to explore the human and race relations existing there and how they are in the process of changing with a new generation of people arriving on the scene, though still in schools. It is in these schools that it will all start in the form of a refusal to speak Afrikaans and to answer any request, order or assignment given to them in Afrikaans. The film shows how the growing consciousness is crossing the family of the main black cop in the township, because law and order is in the hands of the South African Police whose officers are white but whose rank and file and even non-commissioned officers are black. It thus becomes the son against the father, but also the mother against the father, though the mother is the maid of the the main white officer of the police station and the husband is the main non-commissioned officer of the police station. But some people from the special branch arrive one day and the whole situation will explode, because they arrived, partly, because their first heroic act is the death of an older militant who hanged himself in his cell, with his hands tied up behind his back. But they also arrive on that day because their intelligence is telling them that the younger generation is listening to the militants that are not dead like Biko or in prison like Mandela or in exile like Mbeki. It shows how the local white head of the police station disagrees about these ruthless methods but he yields, though it is never clear whether it is because he wants to keep his job or because he lets himself be convinced about the necessity to bulldoze down this emerging movement. It also shows that the main black non-commissioned officer of the police station will finally resign and go back to his wife and his son, but it will be too late because a knife will be drawn and used before it can be prevented. And then the police reinforcements, this time mainly white, are arriving in the illegal funeral for the first batch of victims. Their is no end in such a policy : violence calls for resistance and violence which calls for more violence and it may last a long time before the powerful side yields and accept to share power and the majority side accepts a compromise that means sharing power and reconciliation. When we see such a film and remember these bloody years, we are justified to say that South Africa has come a long way and had gone, if not over the brink, at least quite close to taking the deep dive into an apocalyptic catastrophe. Strangely enough it is admirable that South Africa produced the leaders it needed to get out of the stalemate it had been cornered into by the bigotry of a racist and fascist regime.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University of Paris Dauphine & University of Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne
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painful, powerful cinema
bengleson23 May 2002
Morgan Freeman directs a wonderful landscape of struggle, oppression and revolt in this film. Danny Glover and the rest of the cast bring this vivid era in South Africa to life. There is no ambiguity here. Nor is there an easy resolution that comes to mind. Watching a film like this from a middle class couch in North America, I am filled not only with awe but a significant discomfort. One knows that time and sacrifice are about the only options available. This isn't simply hindsight. It's the message of the film. Bravo!
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9/10
Magnificent And Sobering
sddavis6316 May 2003
This is an absolute must-see movie for anyone who is interested in the apartheid era in South Africa. The story is seen largely through the eyes of Micah (Danny Glover), a black police sargeant whose job is to keep order in a black township. Micah is proud of his police work. It has fed his family and given them a standard of living higher than anyone else's in the area. It has also made him a traitor in the eyes of his own people, and we see him eventually coming into conflict with the younger generation of blacks in particular, who don't see his job as anything noble. To them he is a "Judas" - betraying his own people. Increasing defiance of the apartheid laws by the young people eventually brings in special forces officers from Pretoria (Malcolm McDowell is excellent in this role) whose ruthless tactics eventually have even Micah questioning his role in enforcing the laws.

Glover was superb in this movie, excellently portraying the confusion building inside Micah as everything he has built his life on up to this point begins to crumble. Alfre Woodard also put on a strong performance as Micah's wife Rosie, who finds herself ostracized from the community because of her husband's job.

The evils of apartheid are clearly shown in this movie, and having seen it, one marvels at the fact that in the end apartheid was so quickly set aside and a modern and democratic South Africa under majority rule was so easily established. Be warned that the South African accents used in the film can be at times a little difficult to follow, but that's a small price to pay for one of the best movies I've seen in a long time.

9/10
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10/10
Must see. Morgan Freeman is the director
dpt3230 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I've recently seen Bopha again and every time I see this film I am inspired. Morgan Freeman's direction is really something to behold. Rent this movie, see it, the quality of the direction and acting is top notch. There is one scene with Alfred Woodard, where Morgan Freeman skillful uses four or five different angles without cutting once. The tones and color of this movie really captures the beauty of South Africa which brilliantly juxtaposed against the horror and brutality of apartheid. I don't think this film was nominated for anything but of course the crimes and misdemeanors of films like this are nothing new. See this film its important that films like this and Schindlers list are kept in the public consciousness.
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6/10
Quite good
zombie-4130 October 2000
Bopha! is surprisingly quite a memorable and inspiring film about the troubled years in South Africa. One of my favorite actors, Malcolm McDowell was as ever brilliant playing the evil policeman. The problem is that I and many others are used to seeing McDowell as an anti-hero and by casting him as such a nasty role as he plays in this film, you do not feel as shocked and disgusted by his actions as you should do.
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One of the first in the 90ies and one of the best in the 90ies...
Alfabeta16 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
-SPOILERS-

------------

PLOT

Micah Mangena (Danny Glover) is a police commander of town Moraro in South African Republic in 1980, where Apartheid is still the only way of life. He loves his job and does it the best he knows how (which in his mind means following orders to the letter). De Villiers (Malcolm McDowell) is a chief of Special Units Team, witch arrive in town, because of the rising danger of protest, which might spread from areas around Moraro. At the same time, new generation of cadets is about to become part of SAP (South African Police) core. Micah's son is one of them, but has great doubts about his future employment. Soon everything will start to change dramatically, when secret student meeting, inspired by an idea of change, occurs.

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To quote the beginning of the movie: In Zulu language Bopha means detention. In movie, every protester, who is captured by the police is being on indefinite detention (until special forces say he can go).

Danny Glover is just great. He plays perfectly, a man who did his job for so long with so much heart, that he is unable to react properly, when that same job becomes a machinery of oppression. There are three things you can do in Moraro, in his opinion. Work in mine in slave like condition, to be without a job, and to be a member of SAP (as the most honorable of three)... He does the job to support his family, but ironically that same job will endanger it in the end. Vicious Malcolm McDowell is also great and a perfect cast for a mercy-less representative of Pretoria and hunter for leaders of student protests. The rest of the cast is also very impressive. They all try to pull out the SA accent and this gives a lot credit for a realistic representation. The screenplay, has a few small illogical turns, but it is a very strong writing...

The movie is based on a play by Percy Mtwa, that made a lot of unrest in those days (20 years ago)...

Morgan Freeman as a director (this is new) does also a fine job. He made a fine peace of human drama and it goes side by side with Hollywood products, with obvious smaller budget, but without pathetic moments. To bad Mr. Freeman didn't continue to direct.

If you like human right movies and family dramas this is for you... I give 8 to this movie.
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Great, edge-of-your-seat action film
Sleepy-174 January 2001
Incredible tension from a fevered conflict of races, generations, and police-and-citizens. Morgan Freeman proves himself a great director: the acting from the cast is flawless and strong, and some of the camera set-ups are indelible. There's a short shot where an armored car is roaring toward a phone pole, behind which Alfre Woodward is crouching in terror, that is truly magnificent! Hollywood often ignores superb directorial talent: Charles Laughton only directed one film, Orson Welles had a hell of a time. Yet there are so many mediocre films which lose money! Somebody please jam a good script into Mr. Freeman's hand and stick him behind a camera!
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9/10
Just a fine film...
Rhythm-26 April 2000
Bopha! is just a fine film with stellar acting. Once again Danny Glover delivers a great performance the worthy of Oscar or Golden Globe and he just doesn't get it. The struggle of one man's fight to be true to his native land or to the ruling establishment is poignantly portrayed. Alfre Woodard and Malcolm McDowell turn in good performances also.
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9/10
Powerful and Moving
view_and_review2 September 2018
You don't have to know about apartheid for this movie to touch a nerve. And for anyone who has an inkling of what apartheid in South Africa was like then this movie will smasht that nerve. The extreme oppression was not unlike the Jim Crow south and in some ways it was worse.

Bopha, the title of the movie, is a Zulu word that means arrest. Until 1994 in South Africa the black South Africans could be arrested for almost anything. The Afrikaaners (white South Africans), who were mostly Dutch, wanted to totally control the natives. One such way was to make Afrikaans the national language. The youth of South Africa saw that as another means of oppression therefore many opposed learning the language.

"Bopha!" details this small bit of the long tumultuous history between South Africans and Afrikaaners. Micah (Danny Glover) is the police sergeant in charge of enforcing the extremely oppressive and repressive rules of the government while he is also a black South African. The story is complicated more by his son not wanting to follow in his father's footsteps which makes him an enemy of the state.

This movie is so jarring it shakes the core. At one point I had to pause the movie just to gather myself. I've read enough about apartheid South Africa to know that what I was viewing was only a fraction of what the South Africans suffered yet that fraction was enough to bring me to tears. "Bopha!" is a very powerful and moving movie and I can't believe it had eluded me so long.
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5/10
Less than it should have been
rooak20 February 2018
It's hard to criticise a film that has such noble intentions. But what should have been a gripping story ended up being strangely emotionally a little flat. Danny Glover didn't really fill out his role adequately, and as his story is the central one, it was a little disappointing. Other performances were generally okay. The score by Horner was not his greatest, and seemed quite derivative of other composers. And way too often it sounded like an American score (all that brass!) Some of the cinematography was stunning.
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7/10
Good
manitobaman814 September 2014
BOPHA! you SUCKA! I wasn't really sure if I'd like the movie -- and I certainly did not. A film that knocks you out just after watching it. Not for the squeamish. Whatever you may have seen in your life or even whatever you will see in the future, I can predict that no movie will ever give you the same feeling as this. The screenplay is intelligent, focused and clever. I much enjoyed this film, mostly because of the convincing characters, especially the man with "man manners." I'll be honest, I have never been courageous enough to watch a movie like this. It's worth seeing for some inventive uses of sound and the actors. Final rating equals 7/10.
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9/10
Betraying one's own people.
lee_eisenberg10 March 2006
Morgan Freeman's directorial debut casts Danny Glover as a cop in apartheid-era South Africa whose son is an anti-apartheid activist. Knowing this, the father has to choose between his people and his job: he basically betrayed his people, but he has to support his family.

True, this seems like a plot that we frequently see, but "Bopha!" (Zulu for "arrest") makes good use of it. They raise the stakes by portraying a new white supremacist police chief (Malcolm McDowell). And also impressive was that scene where the students leave school to protest the teaching of Afikaans (my mom said that they used to show that sort of scene on TV all the time). A really good movie.
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