Beyond Right & Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness (Review)

Deeply affecting doc offers un-Pollyannaish optimism

Roger Spottiswoode and Lekha Singh observe small- and large-scale peacemaking in Ireland, Rwanda, and the Middle East.

THE HAMPTONS, NEW YORK — Inspiring and hopeful without downplaying hard realities about human nature, Lekha Singh and Roger Spottiswoode's Beyond Right & Wrong travels the world to find victims of horrendous violence who have forgiven, and sometimes almost befriended, those who caused them pain. Mixing geographical settings up underlines the subject's universality; this kind of healing may not be the sexiest theatrical material, but viewers who catch festival or arthouse screenings are very likely to urge friends to see it.

This isn't the first film to handle such subjects (Sara Terry's gripping Fambul Tok comes to mind), but it smartly gathers different kinds of on-topic stories and pairs them with just enough outsider commentary to lend psychological, moral, and political perspective.

In Northern Ireland we meet Jo Berry, whose father was killed in 1984 by the IRA's "Brighton Bomber," Patrick Magee. When Magee was released from prison via the Good Friday Agreement, Berry sought out her father's killer. Her account of their meeting is a case study in emotional disarmament, with her waiting out his impulse to justify his actions and allowing him to reach the truth on his own; as he puts it, stirringly, her humane attitude toward him forced him to imagine the sort of man who could raise her. "I killed a very fine human being," he had to admit.

Other kinds of reconciliation happen in the wake of different conflicts. Two fathers, one Israeli and one Palestinian, bond deeply after both lose young daughters to the conflict between their states. An Irish boy who was blinded by an English soldier's bullet finds his assailant decades later and invites him to meet. A Rwandan woman who lost five children in the genocide is approached by their killer and, despite wanting nothing to do with him, is worn down by his desperate need to be forgiven.

The stories are so numerous they're impossible to dismiss as aberrations, and as we hear from those who have no personal stories to tell -- organizers of reconciliation movements, experts on the emotional terrain involved -- it's difficult not to conclude that, though most of us would instinctively demand blood after a loved one is murdered, it is not only nobler but more useful to find ways to forgive.

That awareness, strangely, generates the doc's strongest emotions. In another kind of film, we would weep for the man who returns to his village to find his entire extended family massacred. Here, we listen to his story of meeting the man responsible, and weep for fear that we would not be able, as he did, to all but force forgiveness on him.


Production Company: Article 19 Films

Directors: Roger Spottiswoode, Lekha Singh

Producers: Lekha Singh, Rebecca Chaiklin, Filippo Bozotti, Roger Spottiswoode

Executive producers:

Directors of photography: Robert Adams, Roger Fitzgerald, Tony Hardmon

Production designer:

Music: David Hirschfelder

Editor: Paul Seydor

No rating, 80 minutes