A Dry White Season Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
It’s 1976, sometime past the middle of apartheid in South Africa. Tensions are constant, concerns great. Such woes, though, don’t matter to those who can sign change. This is how it is and questioning is expected to get nowhere.
Ben du Toit (Donald Sutherland) is a teacher at an all-white school in the area. One afternoon, a local comes to Ben with a child, who has giant welts on his rear. “They must have had a reason,” Ben says. “There’s nothing to be done.” This is the attitude, brutally portrayed in an early sequence wherein a protest ends in numerous casualties, that is so dangerous and deadly, the mindset that says this is the way things are and that’s that.
Soon after, the gardener’s son is arrested, triggering another series of costly events that introduce full-on investigations, moments of moral questioning and dire considerations of human needs.
A DRY WHITE SEASON is based on André Brink’s 1979 novel of the same name. It is at times quite problematic, primarily in its presentation of having a white man position himself as savior, and even more so when it really doesn’t seem to make the sense it’s intended to. Ben initially presents himself as one who is disinterested in fighting the system in place. Yet, after the gardener’s son is imprisoned (at the least), he decides to take action. The change of direction and mentality comes so early (less than a half hour into the movie), making him a thin character, one who lacks proper development considering his role. The screenplay (by Colin Welland and director Euzhan Palcy), too, leans on the hokey side at times, as when a gardner expresses his concern not over physical wounds, but wounds of the heart.
Still, A DRY WHITE SEASON is also quite powerful at crucial times. Director Palcy (the first black female director to work for a major studio) has a keen eye, presenting impactful moments throughout, one example being the contrast between manned firearms and raised fists at a soon-to-be-deadly protest.
Of the cast, Sutherland does a fine job in his role, the appearance from Susan Sarandon is much welcome and Winston Ntshona (as Gordon, the gardener) gives a memorable turn, however brief it is. Also short in runtime is the turn from Marlon Brando. In his first performance in nine years (his previous appearance in 1980’s THE FORMULA), Brando rightfully earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination, which happened to be a category first for him and his final Oscar nod.
Despite its clear flaws and occasional urging of its audience to congratulate itself, A DRY WHITE SEASON does stand relatively strong, a political drama that cares for its subjects and so desires justice.
Video: 1.85:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for jitter, flicker, and small dirt.”
Details and textures are strong, while colors are healthy and accurate throughout.
Audio: English Stereo. “The original stereo soundtrack was remastered from the 35 mm magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX.”
Dialogue is clean and the sound effects come through quite nicely.
Euzhan Palcy and Scott Foundas (34:52): In this new interview, director Palcy and film critic Foundas discuss A DRY WHITE SEASON and the era in which it was made.
Five Scenes (28:45): Palcy reflects on five key scenes in the film.
Nelson Mandela (2:43): In this too-brief 1995 interview, Palcy sits down with Mandela, who at the time was serving as the first President of South Africa.
Donald Sutherland (5:22): An interview that originally aired on NBC’s Today in 1989.
Award Ceremony (1:30): 2017 footage of Palcy receiving the Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo, “South Africa’s highest distinction for foreign dignitaries,” celebrating the director’s anti-apartheid work.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release: an essay by filmmaker and scholar Jyoti Mistry.