The trial for sabotage and a conspiracy to violently overthrow the government of South Africa that earned Nelson Mandela a life sentence in 1964 was not filmed. But its audio component was recorded; 256 hours of it, according to this film. “The State Against Mandela and the Others,” a documentary about that trial and its aftermath directed by Nicolas Champeaux and Gilles Porte, has clever, effective means of compensating for the absence of visual documentation. One is animation.
In striking black-and-white renderings that look like charcoal drawings, scenes from the trial are depicted, sometimes metaphorically. A judge upbraiding the anti-apartheid activist Mandela is drawn in an outsize fashion so as to dwarf the defendant. One is reminded of the animated “Before the Law” sequence that prefaces Orson Welles’s film of Kafka’s “The Trial.”
The movie also features interviews with surviving co-defendants and comrades of Mandela, all of them filmed with headphones around their necks. Periodically they put these on, listen to the trial audio and comment on it.
No visuals can compete with Mandela’s voice at the trial: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to see realized. But my Lord, if it need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Mandela did not die before effecting a huge change in his still-traumatized country. This movie sheds a valuable light on his struggle. In its final scene, four aged survivors of that struggle reunite and talk over ideals and old times. They catch footage of Donald J. Trump on television and their eyes light up, as if they’ve seen his like before.
The State Against Mandela and the Others
Not rated. In English and French, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes.