The tale of the transition out of South African apartheid is one littered with heroes, both forgotten and well known. Beyond its country wide implications, apartheid affected small communities and touched the lives of many that never reached the greater world stage. Action Kommandant is the story of one such minor figure; the young liberation fighter Ashley Kriel.
Director Nadine Angel Cloete tells Kriel’s story through a mix of archive footage and recordings, stylised documents from the local police of Bonteheuwel, interviews with close friends, and rather incongruously; stylised animation. For a small scale story, interviews with people who knew Kriel paint a textured picture of the young man as a keen and intelligent one driven by a greater calling.
It’s hard to relate to something as raw as the apartheid as British citizens, particularly as we are so geographically and historically removed from it. This documentary helps to bridge the temporal and cultural gap, allowing us to connect with apartheid on a deeper level and exhibiting the true potential of world cinema. Despite his drive Kriel is nothing more than a student, yet one drawn to make sacrifices beyond what is expected of him. Action Kommandant succeeds primarily in communicating this, and that is its greatest success.
Elsewhere, it tries to build the narrative into something perhaps more vital than it actually is. Kriel’s story is a tragic one that acted as the catalyst to bring the community of Bonteheuwel together, allowing them to see the personal effects of apartheid, but due to a lack of information about Kriel’s time with the ANC, the story feels like it has its middle act curtailed somewhat.
Ultimately, life never conforms to the neatness of crafted narratives, and Kriel’s story is nonetheless told with dignity and verve.
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