Though it's still early in the festival and I have yet to see a few of the films in competition, I feel pretty confident in saying Goodbye Bafana will win the Golden Bear award this year. Every once in a blue moon you stumble across a perfect movie -- one that gets it all right -- and flows slow smoothly from start to finish, you almost wish it could go on and on ... and on. This year, in Berlin, Goodbye Bafana is that film. Not only is it an important real-life film based on two important men, but it's sincere, emotional and inspirational -- to a point where you just want to reach out and give Joseph Fiennes a hug, he's that believable. Pic, which is primarily set on Robbin Island, a prison off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, begins in 1963 and spans 27 years. But, unlike La Vie en rose (which confused the audience with its jumping here, there and everywhere), Goodbye Bafana gracefully and seamlessly fades from one year to the next ... with each moment in time becoming increasingly more significant.
Story documents 27 years in the life of James Gregory (Fiennes), a prison guard looking for a way to move up the ranks during one of the most critical times in his country's history. With two young children and a wife to support, Gregory lands a job where is to take charge of the censorship office on Robbin Island -- a position that could easily lead to a promotion or two -- seeing as one of his main responsibilities is to look after South Africa's most feared terrorist, Nelson Mandela (Dennis Haysbert). Gregory, a severe racist (not because he chooses to be, but because he has to be), is to inspect all incoming and outgoing mail, while keeping an eye on Mandela and his cohorts. Because Gregory grew up on a farm, in which he was best friends with a black boy named Bafana, he knows how to speak Mandela's African dialect and proves useful in that he can play spy for the higher-ups.
However, when Gregory's spying leads to the unfortunate death of Mandela's oldest son, the guard (who has a son of his own) is shaken to the core. Whether it's out of guilt, or the fact that he is actually beginning to see things from Mandela's point of view, Gregory forms an unusual bond with Mandela which begins when he helps sneak chocolate to the terrorist's distraught wife. He then dives into his own independent research, seeking out a banned copy of the Freedom Charter -- which detailed the ways in which the apartheid policy should be abolished, paving the way for equal rights amongst blacks and whites -- but finds himself in a little too deep when a few of his fellow guards detect Gregory's sympathy for those who do not share the same skin color as they.
From there, things really begin to heat up: Mandela's followers continue to bomb public spaces within the city to protest their leader's imprisonment, while the government begins transferring their high-profile inmate to nicer quarters in an attempt to get Mandela to call off the attacks. All along, Gregory and his family are transferred along with him, hopping from home to home, prison to prison -- for 27 years -- until, finally, apartheid comes to an end and Mandela is freed from Victor Verster Prison (where, at this point, they had him living in a fully furnished house) on February 11, 1990.
Fiennes and Haysbert are outstanding as Gregory and Mandela -- both truly defiant men who couldn't help but feel the world around them with only their eyes and their silent actions. Based on the book by James Gregory and Bob Graham, director Bille August somehow manages to pack 27 years of explosive history into a two hour film that feels shorter than it is. His smooth transitions, coupled with two terrific performances from men who obviously researched the hell out of their characters, make for some extraordinary filmmaking. And, hopefully, it won't be another 27 years before another Goodbye Bafana emerges victorious on the big screen.