Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hansie - a sinner who repenteth?


Hansie” is a curious film. It was produced and inspired by a team, including the subject’s brother Frans, who seemed to have two motives. First posthumously to rehabilitate Hansie Cronje the fallen idol of South African cricket. Second to suggest that through Christian belief in action, “choosing life”, it is possible for even the most fallen of sinners to get absolution. This makes it sound extremely slanted and precious and likely only to be of interest to those who, like Cronje, have been “born again”. In fact it is a much better film that this outline indicates and I would argue that it is worth viewing by anyone who has an interest in Cronje and cricket but also in the complexities of South Africa society and human character.

The subtitle of the film is “A True Story” and it certainly takes and explains Hansie Cronje’s side of the story - the personal explanation for his actions that he gave to the King Commission which investigated the match fixing allegations on behalf of the South Africa government. So the film is not investigative journalism and no new material facts about the scandal emerge. What the film does is paint in the personal issues surrounding the story – in particular Cronje’s relationship with his teammates, his family and his friends. And there is a very strong message that the child is father of the man – we visit Cronje’s school, Grey College, Bloemfontein, quite a lot both in flashback and in the aftermath of Cronje’s death. The strict Afrikaner moral code taught by this school is contrasted with Cronje, the sinner, who falls from grace. For those at Grey, Cronje is the “Prodigal Son” and this bible story is a leitmotif of the film.

“Hansie” is clearly a sincere act of attempted redemption of Cronje’s reputation by Hansie Cronje’s widow, brother and others close to him. This is not to say that it ducks the tough issues – how could it as they are very much in the public domain following Cronje’s confession and evidence to the investigators? It does not try to exculpate Cronje’s behaviour – his greed, hubris and arrogance come across albeit tempered by strong suggestions that he was a troubled soul. The truth, of course, is that Cronje had absolutely no reason to take money from the shady world of the illegal bookmaker and to then inevitably get sucked into that world. By South African standards he was extremely well off with a lovely home, substantial income and hero status. Even after his fall from grace and death he was chosen at number 11 in the list of 100 Greatest South Africans!

Is “Hansie” an inspiring story? Not to me it isn’t. That some religions allow and even encourage those who have fallen to be redeemed is fine I suppose. But the barely disguised contention of the film that this rebirth (including a baptism scene) somehow eradicates the original crime is surely wrong. The choice of “Life”, which must be linked to an affirmation of faith, seems a bit of a cop out. It is almost as if a “sinner who repenteth” is in some way morally superior to someone who hasn’t sinned at all – or hasn’t been found out!

The production values of this fairly low budget film are good – even the cricket scenes, whilst far from authentic, are to an acceptable standard – as is the location shooting in India and South Africa. The performances are good as well – Frank Rautenbach makes a convincing Cronje, the American Sarah Thompson is believable as Cronje’s wife Bertha and Nick Lorentz is excellent as South Africa's coach Bob Woolmer. So “Hansie – A True Story” is a pretty good film – so far as it goes! But was I convinced that this was the whole truth about illegal betting, match fixing and the involvement of Hansie Cronje and other South Africans in this sordid business? I’m afraid not!


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