DIANE DE BEER
ELLEN, DIE ELLEN PAKKIES STORIE
(Afrikaans with English subtitles)
DIRECTOR: Daryne Joshua
SCRIPT: Amy Jephta
CAST: Jill Levenberg, Jarrid Geduld, Elton Landrew, Kay Smith
When Requiem for a Dream was released in 2000, it established a benchmark for movies dealing with addiction. But what has changed in the meantime is the way addiction manifests in specific communities.
Currently in the US they are battling the worst opioid addiction in their history, but back home specifically amongst the coloured community on the Cape Flats (and elsewhere) it is the scourge of tik that holds communities hostage. Theirs is a very particular and personal story because of the past, the history of where they come from and where they find themselves and the never-ending cycle of hardship with those in trouble ripe for the picking.
The Ellen Pakkies story is a familiar one and many will know the bare facts of the mother who in desperation strangled her tik-addicted son. But what Jephta and Joshua have achieved is to disembowel this family tragedy in all its horror. Set in Lavender Hill where it all happened with the community part of the story, Pakkies was involved with the script and stripped her soul to unravel the story of a son unable to deal with the tragedy of his life and then turning to drugs and away from the father and mother who would have given their lives to keep him safe.
Instead, they are the people he turns on, that’s what addiction does, and the people involved, both the user and those around the addict, are not equipped to deal with the fallout of their lives. In this instance, a mother’s past impacts on decisions made in the future and in turn infiltrates a family’s way of dealing with life. When tough issues surface, no one sees their lives spiraling out of control because the fall is fast and before they know it, lives are completely out of control and so often lost.
Pakkies knew how to battle the world. She had a battered childhood and was used to fighting her way out of trouble. But this time she would need help, and this is really the dilemma of these communities who are overwhelmed by drugs and the culture that comes with it. Just this week the police again released murder statistics and the highest are gang-related.
With these devastating numbers prevalent on the Cape Flats, the individual families dealing with the addicts have nowhere to turn. The system is inadequate, and they are left to their own devices which is how they got into trouble in the first place. The well has run dry.
But when disaster strikes, people turn on those who aren’t able to cope. That’s the story that is being told and that plays out in these communities’ time and again with no hope of change. What empowers the Pakkies story is the script, the clear direction and dramatic performances from the three main characters that tear at your heart. Levenberg’s Ellen and Geduld’s Abie, the out-of-control son, were awarded best actress and actor prizes at the recent Silwerskerm Fees as a result.
It is their crystallising vision and sensibility that add texture to the work. Watching Abie turn from a promising scholar with a future to someone whose every breath is focussed on the drug that feeds his life, is traumatising. From a loving teenager he turns into something rather than someone as the drug dehumanises every move he takes to ensure a continued fix from day to day. We all know the devastating effects but to watch it happening in front of your eyes is harsh and the only way to deal with that reality.
Levenberg’s Ellen is a tiger mom who goes on the prowl to defend her son. She is determined to fight for his soul but while she and husband Odneal (Landrew in another heartfelt delivery), are in the fight for their son’s life, the outside world turns its back. Turning their home into a prison to keep their son out, having lost most of their possessions, their nights turn into terror as the drug makes their son a thug who devastates them to feed his habit.
Ellen, die Ellen Pakkies Storie is not easy to watch especially because we think we are familiar with the reality of what is happening around this addiction, but with a smart script and direction, Levenberg, Geduld and Landrew tell their story of pain with a poignancy and punch that forces audiences to engage.