Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Storm -- partial justice and compromise

Director: Hans-Christian Schmid, 2009. (PG-13) 

A Mediterranean beach on a sunny day, a father splashes his two daughters as they play on the shore. Such an idyllic scene opens this German independent film. But in the next scene policeman are arresting the man, Goran Duric, for war crimes and atrocities akin to those of the Nazi regime fifty years before. A scene later in the film shows a victim of this monster playing with her son on the beach, possibly the same one that Duric enjoyed earlier. In the first Duric seems happy, in the latter the victim is wary, even anxious, filled with painful memories. Both enjoy their family, but one is a monster, with delusions of racial superiority, and the other is a mensch, who wants to be left alone to live a simple life.

The movie revolves around these two characters but centers on Hannah Maynard (Kerry Fox), a prosecutor at the Hague’s International Criminal Tribunal. Losing a promotion to her peer Keith (Stephen Dillane), he gives her an “easy” case to prosecute against Duric. He is a former commander of the Yugoslav National Army, a Serbian leader and current politician, who is accused of deporting and subsequently killing dozens of Bosnian Muslims in the Serb-Croat war of the 1990s. With an eye-witness ready to finger Duric, things seem cut and dried. That is, until the witness is caught in a lie and decides to commit suicide.

About to become the scape-goat for a lengthy trial that is on the brink of defeat, Hannah goes to Serbia to attend the witness’ funeral and seek out more information. Her investigation leads her to Mira (Anamaria Marinca), sister of the dead witness. Mira has left Serbia for Berlin and a new start in life with her German husband and son. She has secrets but does not want to reveal them.

Billed as a political thriller, this could barely called a thriller. Rather, it is a slow moving, restrained drama. Violence resides just below the surface but remains unseen for the most part, merely threatened. There are no car chases or guns fired. Yet for the viewer who enjoys seeing slow character development amid a thoughtful not necessarily tidy plot, this film does bring some punch.

As the film develops, the intersection of politics and justice produces a collision of ideals. Hannah, caught up personally in the unfolding secrets, wants to see Duric convicted for his brutal crimes against humanity. But her friends and lovers have other agendas, political ones that seem to trump the feelings of the individual. The question at the heart of the movie is voiced by the witness in the court: “What kind of court is this? What the hell is it actually for?” Hannah’s internal conflict is between her desire for justice and her desire to keep her job. The external conflict is between justice and politics. So, the central question becomes, is partial justice (a compromised justice) better than none at all?

Duric is an obvious cinematic stand-in for Radovan Karadzic, the Serbian leader who is widely regarded as the chief architect of ethnic cleansing in the war, and who stood trial for his war crimes at the Hague in 2009. He is accused of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II. Facing charges of genocide, for killing over 8000 Muslims, and the trial continues. Who knows if justice will prevail.

But the film seeks to bring closure to the lengthy trial that Duric faced. And it does this via compromise. Who wins in this case? Is justice done? Surely for the victims, depicted by Mira, partial justice is an empty justice, devoid of decency. She wanted to be heard, to finally face her oppressor and speak the truth without undue fear. By being silenced, she is refused this opportunity. Even if found guilty, a partial justice favors the accused, since the punishment becomes watered down too much. The truth remains hidden. Bigger agendas prevail.

When it comes to justice, to compromise is to abet the criminal. The political cost of forcing the fullness of the trial becomes the determiner. Much of our modern western justice is similar. We see so many plea-bargains because it is easier and cheaper to negotiate and compromise and slap the wrists of criminals. It helps the tax-payer, apparently, because it minimizes costly trials. It helps the accused, because he gets a lighter punishment, often being released for time spent in jail. But it usually does not help the victim. Justice itself often becomes a victim.

God’s justice is not compromised by the pale shadow of politics. In God’s realm, there is full justice, true guilt and innocence. Sadly, we all find ourselves guilty before his bench (Rom. 3:23). We cannot offer a plea-bargain to this Judge. He seeks full condemnation. Yet, unlike earthly courts, he has placed the full weight of punishment on a scapegoat, a substitute. Christ Jesus has taken this upon himself by going to the cross and dying for all humanity (1 Pet. 2:24). In an amazing display of justice revealed and forgiveness offered (Rom. 3:26), Christ’s sacrifice on the cross allows the guilty to find release; in Christ we stand uncondemned, acquitted (Rom. 8:1)! Christ was the voluntary victim. We are free, if we follow Jesus.

The storm of the title seems to be in the soul of Hannah primarily, and in the soul of Mira secondarily. This storm swirls around building up to the climax when hurls down accusations. When faced with internal conflict and pressure to silence the innocent victim for the sake of the bigger picture, will we acquiesce and settle for partial justice? Or will we put our careers (or lives) on the line and push for true justice? We may face such a storm some day.

Copyright ©2012, Martin Baggs

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