The Interpreter: Zimbabwe Bean Salad

Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Sydney Pollack
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn
(PG-13, 128 min.)

"The drama is make-believe. It does not deal with truth, but with effect." W. Somerset Maugham

It’s no wonder the United Nations cooperated to have The Interpreter filmed within its hallowed halls. What is billed as a thriller is much more an infomercial for the institution that failed to stop genocide in Rwanda. In this fictional account, at last the UN does the right thing.

The best thrillers follow Poe’s advice about selecting every detail to create one single effect. The Interpreter would do well to follow this precept, but it insists on wearing too many hats – a not quite love story, an analysis of Africa’s societal upheavals, PR for the United Nations, and almost as an afterthought, an action-filled suspense story. Actually, it does a better job on the first three. 

Kidman’s Silvia Broom, a white Afrikaner who has rejected violence to achieve change in her troubled country, now works as a translator for the UN. Alone in her cubicle one night after hours, she “accidentally” overhears a plot to assassinate said dictator, President Zuwani. The coincidence that the whispered message is in the Ku tongue and that Broom is one of a handful of people who speak it --as well as the whole issue of the whispered words of assassination being somehow broadcast into an open mike -- trouble Secret Service agent, Tobin Keller, played by Sean Penn. As he looks more closely into Broom’s past, he finds disturbing evidence. She is now suspect as well as her story. 

How very much like Hitchcock. An innocent outsider purely by coincidence is drawn into a nefarious scheme where he becomes the suspect, and the authorities are either helpless or out to get him. To prove himself innocent, he must find the real culprit and save the world, a theme is played out in The 39 Steps as well as The Man Who Knew Too Much, not to mention John Frankenheimer’s 1962 The Manchurian Candidate.

What steals the thunder from this revisited plot in The Interpreter is the character of the assassination target. Even Kidman says she would like President Zuwani gone. If he is killed, it seems either of his rivals would be preferable and suffering in Matobo would greatly diminish. So there’s not the save the world stuff going on. The motivation to save this monster poses an ironic ethical dilemma for Broom, great for debates in philosophy classes, but not for screen suspense. And Penn’s Tobin Keller and his agency don’t actually care if the thug president is killed, just not on U.S. soil. 

Since just about everyone could care less about the well-being of the assassination target, the movie then shifts our concern to Kidman’s Broom, who is pursued by those she overheard. There are a couple of good scenes here –a muted car chase downsized to accommodate Manhattan traffic jams and Broom’s preference for a moped, a frightening fire escape voyeur, and a taste of Tela Viv’s exploding busses. But the pacing isn’t there.

Somewhere in the middle, the thriller decides to become a love story, with Penn and Kidman divulging their lost loves and secret sorrows. Both performers have great presence and skill, but we should only be given just a taste of their softer sides and then back to the action. Instead, the script has them wallowing in past relationships with sentimental indulgence – a great story line for a Willie Nelson CD, but almost tedious here.

Sensing this, again a little too late, Pollack takes us back to the assassination plot line where still more machinations unfold, but without much sense of urgency or threat. 

Except for a few details that do not quite jibe, The Interpreter suffers for being too much like real life. We get a balanced picture of the fictionalized Matobo as well as a realistic portrait of the highly educated and once idealistic genocidal despot who runs it. Kidman’s Silvia Broom white Afrikaner is a complex distillate of the tragedy and beauty of her mother country. But like Kidman’s Silvia Broom, this film takes itself a little too seriously as it tries to save itself and the world, and in doing so, lets its audience down.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Film-Loving Foodie: Okay, I am going to take a leap of faith here and say that the dictator in The Interpreter is not unlike Zimbabwe’s Mugabe. (Oh, that the real UN would deal as harshly with the thug as the cinematic one does!)

I have chosen this Zimbabwe bean salad as a tribute to Kidman’s Silvia Broom, whose trim figure, and earnest expression, not to mention her academic pallor, suggest vegetarian leanings. Thus, though this would be a side dish for most of us carnivores, for Silvia it would be the featured presentation.

Zimbabwe Bean Salad

Prep: 10 min. Cook: 5 min.

For 4 servings:

Marinade time: 24:00, Cook: 5 min.

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/2 lb. canned baked beans, drained
  • 1/2 lb. canned butter beans, drained
  • 1/2 lb. canned green beans, drained
  • 1/3 cup onion, chopped
  • 3/4 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

Combine first 5 ingredients with salt and pepper to taste in a heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Simmer 5 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients in a serving bowl. Pour hot dressing over vegetable mixture. Mix thoroughly. Cover and let marinate at room temperature 24 hours. Chill before serving. 

“Zimbabwe has an interesting history. Its name means "house of stone," referring to the ancient city of Zimbabwe from which the Shona people ruled and conducted a gold trade between the 8th and the 15th centuries. Its more recent history echoes that of most of Africa dealing with a colonial past. The presence of Europeans and their descendants have influenced the cuisine of the country.”

Information provided by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Recipe Source: Mealsforyou. com