LOCAL MUSIC SHOULD MAKE OUR WORLD GO ROUND AND EVERYONE SHOULD BE PAYING ATTENTION

It was almost luck that I got to catch two musical documentaries at the recent Silwerskerm Fees. Musical prophet Danie Marais pointed the way and it was an extraordinary morning of two remarkable musical documents anyone interested in local music should try to see. Sadly, even at this festival, the attendance for these two searing films on the way music is used and abused was dismal – not even the local press seemed interested. DIANE DE BEER reviews and reveals more about MUTANT and DIE ONGETEMDE STEM:

Mutant pictures: Christian Imraan

Die Ongetemde Stem pictures: screen grabs

Mutant (directed and conceived by Lebogang Rasethaba and Nthato Mokgato) isn’t for the fainthearted. The Festival guide describes it as an intimate portrait of one of South Africa’s most outspoken and controversial artists and the turbulent, dangerous world he lives in.

I’m not in a position to dispute that, but I was gripped from beginning to end by what is described as an exploration of the rapper Isaac Mutant’s roots in the notorious violence-stricken Cape Flats of Cape Town, as well as his current situation.

This is an activist with a voice, articulate and angry yet reasoned when he explains that while he hates white people, he doesn’t want to kill them. “I just want to live or I would be like the evils I’m trying to fight.”

And he is coming from his reality, living in what he describes as “freedom” in a shack on Hangberg with the affluent Hout Bay and the harbour staring him in the face.

“I just want to live and I suppose everyone just wants to live,” he reinforces.

Still living in a country where apartheid determines lives, Isaac was directed by his sister, who saw him struggling with his anger, to turn to music. “Vent your anger into music,” and while many of his peers describe his lyrics as “hitting the nail too hard”, this is someone who is commenting on the life he lives and the one he experiences every day.

With his music he informs, he speaks his mind; and if democracy isn’t there to protect and nourish at least those dreams, what is the struggle for?

As another artist remarks, she doesn’t necessarily agree with what he is saying, but she admires Mutant for speaking his mind. Agreed!

And for those far removed from this world, it is an education, perhaps a harsh one, but in the separated worlds we still live in today, it’s invaluable. Are we just going to push people who are suffering away and hope the problem resolves itself, or do we at least engage and listen and hopefully understand and embrace?

As a representative for farmworkers explains: When one farmer dies, the world takes notice, but the deaths of farmworkers on a weekly basis are ignored. “Whose life is more valuable?” she asks.

 And that is what Isaac Mutant is fighting for. He might say things that those of us who are privileged don’t want to hear, but the least we can do is listen.

Isaac Mutant fighting for freedom

Or, as the man himself notes: “Let’s not talk, just give it back, give it all back. Everything that was taken away.”

We’re talking about a system which classified people along racial lines. And in those times, this mixed race man was considered black. It’s something he has identified with all his life.

But now, in this new country, he feels he is being shifted along racial lines once again. No longer is he considered black, now he has to identify as coloured.

And these are just some of the issues on the line. And the reason that Mutant has to be watched and Isaac Mutant has to be listened to.

Isaac Mutant in discussion with friends

The film is still on a festival run and has recently been  submitted to Netflix and Comcast for potential licensing deals.

The next festivals to screen it are: Blackstar Film Festival (USA); Rock This Town (France); and

Musical Ecran (France).

On a very different note yet with many of the same issues Die Ongetemde Stem takes a hard and uncompromising look at the Afrikaans music industry and the racial imbalances that still persist almost 30 years into our democracy.

Fraser Barry, Jolyn Phillips and Churchil Naudé, all who have been sidelined.

One would think that especially when people have a language in common, inclusion would be a given particularly  with our past. I was shocked, for example, to hear that someone like the articulate Churchil Naudé who uses his music to express particular feelings, still feels side-lined.

 Even if his music is not going to slot into some sections of Afrikaans music, that’s true of many singers, black and white, or are we still in this new  century going to judge on colour? Surely not?

Revolutionary rockers The Gereformeerde Blues Band in their hey day.

In this new era, rapidly becoming old, everyone writing and performing in a particular language should be embraced. And as the documentary points out, this battle was fought many decades ago by Johannes Kerkorrel and the Gereformeerde Blues Band when they broke through the boundaries of traditional Afrikaans music, which was often translated from European songs and determined by a self-imposed vanguard of elders.

But let Riku Lätti tell the story: “It came to us almost completely by accident while we were busy filming interviews and live performances by a multitude of mostly, but not exclusively, Afrikaans singer-songwriters as Die Wasgoedlyn. 

“Die Wasgoedlyn was a project that originated because I realised that the Afrikaans music that I liked and the Afrikaans music that received airtime and public attention could not be further apart.  I discovered, partly by virtue of being an Afrikaans music creator myself, connected and known to many other creators of original Afrikaans music, and partly because I started the investigation, that there is a magdom (please let’s submit that word to English dictionaries) decent Afrikaans music that for the lack of a better term could be referred to as Alternatiewe Afrikaans.

Arbiter of Afrikaans music the volk should hear; Anton Hartman

 “So Alternatiewe Afrikaans becomes a huge category from hard rock, punk, industrial, electronic, to all the way gritty folk and darker country, hip-hop, Goema, Afrikana (think old-school (and thought of as inappropriate by the Afrikaans music police) boeremusiek like Die Briels en Koos Doep).  Basically every kind of Afrikaans music that you wouldn’t hear on commercial radio stations.   Those are all the styles that I have a personal affinity towards, but never got to hear unless you actually go to the concerts of these musicians and go to see them personally. 

Some of the vocal participants in the documentary.

“Many of my favourite Afrikaans artists I set out to go see personally. I asked them if I could record their music with my mobile recording studio sommer at their homes or wherever we had the good fortune to be.  I released hundreds of these tunes and you can go listen to them if you search for Wasgoedlyn on youtube or itunes, or spotify. Basically, wherever you listen to music online. 

“These recordings by the original artists have a stripped down quality to it, a rawness, a cut- to-the-bone grainy atmosphere, that the environment provides, since these tunes where not recorded in pristine soundproof studios (Go listen to Wasgoedlyn Volume 1 – 3 online you will hear what I mean).”

As David Kramer also reminded us in the documentary (and live as part of the too small audience), Afrikaans was appropriated by the white elite while the origins of the language lay within the brown communities. And again, that was the problem for those who had the power to decide what would be played at the SABC.

Either way, the thing that should in this new millennium be the motivator, is the riches that the different communities bring to the language. We are a country that should be embracing all our artists because our diversity adds to the richness that will then emerge on our stages, in our literature, in our music and on our canvasses or in our sculptures.

We have tried separating and proved that it doesn’t bring solace to any particular group. It is our diversity that brings strength as this documentary shows so magnificently! And even the recent Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees again showed how the diversity on the stages added to the stories and songs that enveloped and enchanted audiences.

And that is what Die Ongetemde Stem celebrates.

It will be shown at a South African, Australian, New Zealand film festival in May in Melbourne but also online at: 

kykNET SILWERSKERM FILM FESTIVAL’S EXPANDING EMBRACE DRIVES ITS SUCCESS

The short film Leemte en Leegheid was both an audience favourite and winner as the Best Short Film.

It was time to celebrate at the 10th kykNET Silwerskerm Film Festival following some sidestepping during the pandemic and hectic lockdowns. But they’re back and it appeared as if many filmmakers of both full length and short films benefited from the grace period to sharpen their skills and their scripts. In the long run, this has been a festival that has added potential and punch to the local film landscape. DIANE DE BEER takes a look at her personal 2022 favourites:

The power of storytelling was again in evidence at this year’s 10th celebratory Silwerskerm Film Festival held at Camps Bay’s Bay Hotel at the end of March.

It has always been my experience that the arts is one of the best ways to get to know one another, especially in a country as diverse as ours and (because of our horrific history) still divided in so many ways.

But with different communities sharing their stories, we are invited into different spaces, some familiar and others not so much.

Perhaps the more extreme example is Down So Long, a story set in Hangberg, the settlement in Houtbay so many hoped they could wish away. It is too visible a reminder of the inequalities so rampant in our land with the more affluent Hout Bay directly facing this more struggling offshoot

And yet, that’s not what the film is about. It’s the story of Joseph Mabena who lives with his wife Doreen and their children and spouses and grandchildren in their overcrowded house. When he is injured in a workplace accident, he is offered a substantial amount of money as compensation for the loss of an eye.

But it doesn’t take long for him to see exactly what is happening at home. There’s a sudden rush of affection as the family rallies in the hope of turning their lives around with this unexpected windfall.

Mabena’s eyes are opened, he sees through their deception and arrives home with a new girlfriend.

Scenes from an enthusiastic cast and crew in the powerful and revealing Down So Long.

What makes this such an exciting venture is that the filmmakers wanted to work with what they viewed as  “invisible people” and, by telling their stories, give them a voice.

Workshopped productions are perhaps more easily done in theatre, and here it is especially intriguing, as the cast was comprised of both professional actors and participants from the community who could bring validity to the script.

It’s yet another way of giving voice to the voiceless, and the screening was particularly enchanting because of the excitement of those who had participated. They might not have the acting experience but they came from this place, know the people and could recreate the feeling of what the people and the place represented. “It’s a way of working with the community who represent the lived experience,” said one of the director/producers.

That is the real value of the piece. The camera was used in observational fashion and those of us watching could get a real feel for the place. As entertaining as it was, it is also hugely educational, a true gift.

The Barakat family with Vinette Ebrahim (centre) the heart of the story.

Barakat, a film that deservedly walked off with a clutch of prizes, also deals with a specific community, but this time it is a professional cast telling the story of a Cape Flats Muslim family, who are experiencing their own trauma, trials and tribulations.

This particular community has often been presented with a political backdrop and usually by others telling their stories, but this time, it is just another family going through their own stuff while showing us a lifestyle of a particular community who isn’t usually featured in this fashion.

In interviews, director/screenwriter Amy Jephta acknowledges that she wanted to tell a story about a normal family, their joys and struggles, in this instance that of a Muslim widow Aishee Davids (Vinette Ebrahim) who gathers her family to tell them about her engagement to a Christian suitor.

With four sons, this isn’t going to be easy and this is the journey Jephta (and her co-writer Ephraim Gordon) takes us on.

It is the way the story is told (often with gentle humour), the excellent cast led by a magnificent Vinette Ebrahim (who received the Best Actress award) and the superb production values (deservedly winning them Best Screenplay, Best Original Soundtrack (Kyle Shepherd), Best Production Design and Best Supporting Actress for June van Mersch).

The storytelling sweeps you off your feet as you are invited into the heart of this close-knit yet squabbling family, who has forgotten all about their blessings and are focussed on their individual needs. Bakarat means blessing, and that’s exactly what this left me with while watching. We live in a country where for far too long certain voices and stories were ignored.

By acknowledging who we are, our stories embrace the riches which have been neglected, and we all benefit.

Another filmmaker I’ve been watching the past couple of years is Etienne Fourie and this time (as he explained at the post screening discussions) with the appropriately OTT Stiekyt, he truly made the film he wanted to make. And it shows. It’s a scream in many different ways.

First off, he obviously has an imagination which runs riot, and with drag queens (a whole clutch of them) running the show, he could afford to go wild.

Different looks from Best Actor Paul du Toit in Skietyt.

But he does his homework and gets all the building blocks ready before starting a shoot. He has put together a dream cast of young actors. Start with Paul du Toit (who won Best Actor) who plays an actor who joins a failing drag club to save his marriage, and that line should already say enough. He needs money to pay the bills and his wife (Cintaine Schutte) is unaware of his dilemma.

A transformed Albert Pretorius in Stiekyt winning him Best Supporting Actor Award

The club hosts a handful of drag queens played by actors who are tough to recognise in their extravagant costumes, colourful coiffure and knock-‘em-dead makeup, but this camp coterie drives the film in most joyous fashion.

Combine all that with the acting quality of Albert Pretorius (who won Best Supporting Actor), Wessel Pretorius, Carlton George, Jacques Bessinger (in fact the full enselmble) and you already have a winner.

But everything isn’t a laughing matter, as the story unravels in full blooded gory fashion when a killer suddenly emerges in spectacular style. It is that kind of film. If you buy into the premise, you could just die laughing. But I will keep watching this particular screenwriter/director whose movies all seem to pay homage to cinema in a most original fashion.

His films keep you watching and I can’t wait for the moment he strikes gold.

Short films play a huge part in this particular film festival, and this is where future filmmakers start emerging. They’re fun to watch as they are plentiful and give you an idea what stories are being told and what talent is out there from cinematographers to composers to actors – and of course directors and screenwriters.

Many of our most promising directors dabbled in this particular section before they tackled a full-length film.

Ivan Abrahams and Lida Botha in Leemtes and Leegheid

For the first time the audience favourite, Leemtes en Leegheid, was also the winning short film. Starring real-life husband and wife team Lida and Johan Botha, its a stripped yet emotional story that deals with grief as an elderly couple come to terms with the inevitable. A stunning portrayal of ageing, loss and battling with loneliness.

In sharp contrast, Skyn deals in contemporary sass with a young woman who is desperate to escape the drudgery of her own life by imagining a different starring role. The story stars the talented Carla Smith, who also wrote the script winning her the Best Actress award as well as a prize for the Best Ensemble with co-stars Albert Pretorius, Wilhelm van der Walt and Greta Pietersen.

It felt young, had energetic punch and gave Pretorius a very funky make-over to boot.

Scenes from Verstikking; Nagvoël, Sporadies Nomadies, and Twintig Tone In ‘n Hangkas;

Other short films that impressed were Aan/Af rewarding Marlo Minnaar with a Best Actor award; Bergie by Dian Weys, who showed you could make impact in 7 minutes; Nagvoël, which told a cool superhero tale; Sporadies Nomadies, which explored the estranged relationship between a father and daughter; the wacky Twintig Tone In ‘n Hangkas; an intriguing Verstikking; and out-of-competition’s Die Vegan en die Jagter, which turns stereotypes on their head.

A scene from the heart-wrenching Lakutshon’ Ilanga

Something else to look out for is the Bafta-nominated Lakutshon’ Ilanga, which deservedly won an Oscar in 2021 in the Student-Academy section. It is a heart-wrenching local story of a young black nurse in 1985 apartheid South Africa who is trying to fend for her young activist brother. It is inspired by a true story, so many of which still have to be told, and reminds us of how far we have come and how long the road still stretches up ahead.

Both Karen Meiring (former KykNet channel director and founding member of the Silwerskerm) and Jan du Plessis (MNet content director) were honoured with Exceptional Contribution awards for their extraordinary service through the years.

And their input will keep giving to this festival, which in the past 10 years has had a huge impact on the local film industry – and it keeps expanding and embracing, which is a big reason for its success.

For more detail on the festival and the films and where they can be seen, go to www.silwerskerm.co.za.

All the shorfilms that premiered at the 10th Silwerskerm Film Festival are now available on DStv Now and Dstv Catch Up. The feature films will be on DStv Box Office, or released theatrically:

Gaia: Limited theatrical release:

CAPE TOWN: The Labia: 22, 23 April – https://www.webtickets.co.za/v2/event.aspx?itemid=1514006081

JOHANNESBURG

The Bioscope: 23, 28, 29 April – https://tickets.tixsa.co.za/event/special-screenings-of-gaia

DStv BoxOffice: From 22 April

boxoffice.dstv.com (no subscription needed)

Beurtkrag: DStv Box Office release – 16 June 2022.

Indemnity: Ster Kinekor theatrical release – 12 May at Ster Kinekor Theatres.

Vlugtig: DStv BoxOffice until 25 April 2022.

Down so long: Coming soon to DStv BoxOffice. Release date to be confirmed.

Stiekyt: Coming soon to DStv BoxOffice. Release date to be confirmed.

WHEN VOICES AS STRONG AS PEDRO ALMODOVAR AND MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL GET INVOLVED THE LIVES OF MOTHERS SHINE WITH GREAT STRENGTH

The universe of mothers is something everyone has plenty to say on. But take two storytellers with the gravitas and sparkle of Pedro Almodovar and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who seamlessly slides from actor to director, and you have two extraordinary films with casts that make the stories come alive. DIANE DE BEER reviews:

The great thing about a new Pedro Almodóvar movie is that it is like coming home. It’s about the colours and the characters, the way he tells his stories and the choices he makes. From the start I’ve been a fan.

And because I haven’t yet been back to brick-and mortar-cinemas, I have to depend on what is offered to me. DStv’s Box Office could not have made a better decision than adding Almodóvar’s latest film PARALLEL MOTHERS to its line-up. Not in a million years did I expect that! (The run is finished, but try streaming it somewhere else)

Like the name suggests, it is about mothers but that is about the only thing in this film that is predictable. The rest is like a crazy Almodóvar adventure which makes twists and takes turns to make your head spin. In typical Almodóvar fashion, it’s a story of humanity and even if wild, not that improbable that you can’t take your emotions with you on this ride.

There’s so much that made me happy. I want to live in an Almodóvar world, the way he dresses his people and his rooms, his landscapes and the faces he peoples his films with. All of these appeal to me and take me to a place where I can wallow for a couple of hours.

And then there’s the magnificent Penelope Cruz. She has never done better than in an Almodóvar movie. They get and trust one another and as she grows older, she has also let go and allows him to push her where he wants her to go.

It’s the story of two unlikely mothers-to-be, the one a 40-something and the other just out of her teens (Milena Smit). Together they give birth to their first babies but because of their circumstances, their lives and the outcomes are completely different. And yet they connect through these circumstances that bind them together in a completely fantastic fashion.

Being Almodóvar, there’s also a political thread that runs through the film that plays out both visually and emotionally in a way that rips your heart out. You wouldn’t want it any other way though.

From the leader of the pack, Cruz, to the young Smit, and another Almodóvar regular, Rossy de Palma, they all climb into their characters and before long you’ve forgotten this is only a movie. Don’t miss it, and especially if you don’t know this Spanish filmmaker’s films, have some fun in his world.

And hopefully you have Netflix to access the acting phenomenon Olivia Colman’s latest exposé of feelings in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, THE LOST DAUGHTER, based on the short novel by Elena Ferrante. It’s also a film on motherhood but in this instance coming from a completely different place – and I’m sure on all counts, many women will identify.

I was almost a newly-wed when I decided not to have children. At the time and as I grew older, the fact that I had taken that decision and wasn’t dictated to by perhaps an inability to have children (don’t know, I never tried!), was often disturbing to others. I was called selfish, asked what I would do when I was old and so forth.

And what this film deals with is also a motherhood topic that isn’t often discussed or publicly explored. The title The Lost Daughter already opens many different possibilities, but what is really at the core here is the inability of some women to easily fall into the mothering role. It isn’t that they don’t love their children or even had an unhappy childhood themselves, it simply doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But in our world today (and that before and after us, I suspect), motherhood is sacrosanct.

In Gyllenhaal and Colman’s extraordinary hands and made with an extremely sensitive yet startling vision, the story unfolds in delicate yet dramatic fashion. It takes a while to find your way, especially if you don’t really know what the film’s about. But from the start it grips you as red herrings unfold and tumble out all over the place.

However, yearning, it seems, is the great motivator here. When you discover something in others (and on full frontal display) that you have lacked, it can do strange things to you head.

More than anything though thanks to the teaming of these two talents, it is the unusual story that turns this into such a tour de force. It’s difficult to believe that there are still such taboo topics so part of our everyday lives.

Everything is also enhanced in the film universe by the diversity on all levels that is growing and unfolding by the day. The more stories that are told from different perspectives, the better and more probing our films will be. And in that way, hopefully touch us more deeply, as both these films do so magnificently.

Parallel Mothers is available on DStv Box Office until 1 April 2022, and The Lost Daughter was on local release.

AGEING GENTLY WITH PAUL SLABOLEPSZY IN WHAT CAN BEST BE DESCRIBED AS A TIME WARP

 DIANE DE BEER

MR JOHNSON (Available on BoxOffice/DStv)

DIRECTOR/WRITER: William Collinson

CAST: Paul Slabolepszy, Frans Rautenbach, Jana Cilliers, Graham Hopkins, Anthony Coleman


A confession to start this review: I have always been a Paul Slab fan. Not only of his writing, but also of his acting. And probably more than anything, of his passion as an artist.

There’s also his friendship/collaboration on (and off) stage and on film with the late Bill Flynn, which gave so many of us pleasure and memories.

That’s why this movie appealed to me right from the start. In real life there’s a youthful exuberance to Slabolepszy that few can imitate and it is exactly that quality that inhabits the world of Mr Johnson – his character and the story.

You have to let your imagination run riot –  but that’s often the case when Slabolepszy’s involved. David Johnson has been in a coma for 47 years. He wakes up at the age of 73, which is what the movie deals with.

This is a man who when 20-something has an accident, which puts him in a coma. When he wakes up, obviously, his whole life has changed – both the physical reality of who and what he has become, but also technologically with smart phones and the internet, to name just a few.

Fortunately money isn’t a problem. What the director wanted to deal with was old age and people being discarded and ignored. And to have Slab as your vehicle is smart thinking because he brings the impetus to this Cinderella type story – the down and out ageing “20-something” is something probably only he could pull off.

Jana Cilliers and Paul Slabolepszy (here and below)

And he does – with charm and wit, the perfect antidote in today’s world. There’s much to complain about; a first-time director with first-time mistakes, a script that truly tests your BS detector, and questionable decisions on too many levels.

But then there’s the appeal of Slab, the fact that they are dealing with ageing, something that features abundantly on film, stage, books and television simply because of the Baby Boomer numbers and thus higher visibility. It is part of the zeitgeist. And there’s the excellent use of some star power we’re more used to seeing on stage than on screen like Jana Cilliers, a great (also sentimental) choice as the love interest, a superb cameo by Graham Hopkins, and a hardly-ever-seen Judy Broderick, who feels as if she has been missing in action.

When I started watching, I had only read the first few lines of the synopsis and thought I was seeing a more serious movie than the one I was about to watch. However, in these times when few people need anything serious, this fantasy romp with some serious underlying issues is probably just about the right temperature.

And who can resist Paul Slabolepszy, all dressed up and ready to go.

Watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsstmCBb5SY&t=1s

SAMSA-MASJIEN SHOWS AGEING AS PART OF THE LIFE CYCLE CHALLENGING BOTH YOUNG AND OLD

If you tune into the KKNK website, one of the many delights you will find is the route and tickets to a filmed version of Jaco Bouwer’s brilliant if disturbing Samsa-masjien written by Willem Anker and starring the brilliant Antoinette Kellermann and Gerben Kamper.

DIANE DE BEER reviews:

Gerben Kamper and Antoinette Kellermann

Most of us have or had ageing parents and will be ageing at some stage. That’s exactly what Samsa-masjien is dealing with.

When our parents are ageing, the process that becomes part of the children’s lives in some way can be either a joyous or troubling one. And often, it is in the hands of those who are younger to determine the outcomes.

The parents ageing are in most cases exactly who they are, they’re not going to change and you simply have to decide where and how you’re going to fit into the process.

When I first saw this production live, I was dealing with ageing parents and very vulnerable about the whole subject because it doesn’t matter how you regard your parents or how much work you do to deal with what may lie ahead, nothing can really prepare you for the process.

But what I had come to realise (with films like The Savages) and with dealing with people hoping to age gracefully, is that dignity is something everyone – those ageing and those caring – hope to cling onto. But it’s not easy.

So when I first experienced Samsa-masjien, I could hardly breathe being so overwhelmed. It was in fact only with a second viewing that I became aware of Pierre-Henri Wicomb’s emotive sound recordings which are almost like an invisible yet very present character – especially in the live performance.

Samsa-masjien with Ilana Cilliers

What Willem Anker did with the text was quite astonishing, as he honed into the basest of emotions when dealing with something as overwhelming as this particular human condition, which most of us will be subjected to at some stage in our lives from different vantage points.

Witnessing this on film felt to me much different – not better or worse – but different and which one you prefer will be a very individual rather than an artistic choice.

What Bouwer (who since this production was first staged live at the KKNK has focussed more on film than live theatre) decided was to shoot this play as often in close-up as he could manage – or that is what it feels like. And I suspect he was right because the thing with this topic and particular play is that you have to find yourself in the midst of this particular emotional storm because that’s what it is.

And since writing the review, I had the chance to listen in to a discussion that artistic director Hugo Theart had with Anke,  Bouwer and Wicomb which explained a lot about the process as well as the recording. This was followed later by a discussion with the cast which was as insightful. (both of these are available on the KKNK website

Samsa-masjien was in fact recorded during the Baxter Theatre run in 2015 for archival purposes, which Bouwer had started doing with his work, including Rooiland and Balbesit. (Can we please see those too?)

The way they did it was to shoot a couple of hours before every performance. “It wasn’t meant to be seen,” says Bouwer but fortunately for those of us who relished another viewing or even first-time viewers, Theart could twist his arm.

It is one of the few theatre advantages during Covid that more attention is being paid to online productions and in many instances especially in a country where theatre-makers are always struggling, that’s a good thing. There are many one-off shows for example in Joburg which I can’t make but which I would love to see. It’s also a solution to those theatre makers who struggle with producing remarkable plays for a festival and then it doesn’t travel any further.

But to get back to the production, everyone in this story is busy with their own drama because it’s as much as they can deal with.

Ludwig Binge in Samsa-Masjien

The ageing father (Gerben Kamper) is losing his mind, while his wife (Antoinette Kellermann) is trying her best to keep him safe and allow him to age gracefully. His daughter (Ilana Cilliers) is battling with what is happening to her parents and her husband (Herman Binge) doesn’t think any of this is his problem. He is already providing her parents with a place to stay. Nothing more required. They seem to be cool, calm and collected throughout the unravelling process – but obviously that’s not the case.

It’s a remarkable text (Kafka-inspired and with many different layers to delve into) with Bouwer always a visual thinker and a cast to die for. Bouwer was the first to admit that especially for the actors portraying the ageing parents, these are not easy characters to play.

But his choices were easy because few actors have the courage that these two displayed. All four actors are perfectly cast, but especially Kamper and Kellermann as the parents because of the vulnerability of the characters and the players bringing them to life. It is simply astonishing and contributes to what is essentially an ensemble piece with those on and off stage involved.

It’s not an easy piece to watch but something all of us should heed as it will be part of our lives in some form. And who knows, with enough care and understanding we might even make it a smooth process for everyone involved.

But not in this tale where the children are hosting a dinner party upstairs while the parents are sinking deeper and deeper into the obscurity of their own world below the surface – unseen, or so everyone believes.

Anyone who has walked into a retirement home (previously known  as old-age home) recently will understand that feeling of  displacement as you pass cheerful souls in the passage and people eager to see if they know you or can start a conversation.

It takes me back to boarding school.  I didn’t want to be part of that tribe then and I have no desire to repeat anything vaguely described as group activity in this lifetime.

But as my mother said to me in those tough years: “We are your children now. And I know you never wanted any!”

And that’s the irony of life. There are many things we simply have no say in. They’re given to us and usually at a time when we’re least prepared. Ageing is one of those and watching people die is at its best one of the toughest things you will be asked to do.

So watch Samsa-masjien. No one wants to go through the worst of it and at least, with some thoughtfulness, you can complete this life cycle with the gentleness required.

Go to the KKNK website for tickets and viewing.

THE DURBAN FILM FESTIVAL INVITES YOU TO FREE ONLINE SCREENINGS WITH FILMS THAT EXPLORE THE DREAMS AND DETERMINATION OF WARRIORS

In spite of everything that has happened these past 10 days, the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) will still host the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) from 22 July to 1 August 2021. And the films and documentaries they screen talk about the world we live in which passes most of us by unseen and unheard. DIANE DE BEER looks at just a handful of entries available for free viewing – and encourages viewers to look more closely at our world – all of it not simply the one we find palatable:

This year, for its 42nd edition, the festival presents close to 140 feature films, documentaries and short films alongside an exciting industry programme: Isiphethu.
DIFF which is located in Durban but representative of African voices across the continent and the diaspora, is a dynamic platform that aims to broaden our viewpoints and allow for robust critical discourse about our societies. The Festival hopes that its extensive programme drawn from across the continent and from other parts of the globe will disrupt, challenge, provoke and provide directions for a deeper and more empathetic understanding of the human condition – something that we need more than ever in these times.

The entire programme, alongside all the films that will be screening, is accessible through www.durbanfilmfest.com.

Programme and details

Screenings by film students and a diverse workshop and seminar programme are the pulse of this year’s Isiphethu industry-focused programme at DIFF, aiming to educate and up-skill, instil confidence in young aspirant filmmakers and share information that is relevant to the film industry and empowers young people. 

All workshops and seminars take place between 26 and 30 July and are accessible for free through Zoom and streamed live on Facebook. Find the entire programme and register for the Zoom Room here: https://ccadiff.ukzn.ac.za/isiphethu-2021-2/
 
The full programme, alongside all the films that will be screening, is accessible through www.durbanfilmfest.com. Tickets for the virtual screenings are only available from South Africa and free and accessible through a booking system, which will open tomorrow (21 July 2021).

The 42nd edition of the Festival is organised by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts, in partnership and with the support of the KZN Film Commission, the National Film and Video Foundation, KZN Department of Arts & Culture, the Film and Publications Board and other valued funders and partners. 

Here are four of the films/documentaries available and if this is any indication, the stories are extraordinary and will change the way you view the world:

Rickshaw Girl: This was my first experience of a Bangladeshi film and I was quite interested to see what I would make of it.

Rickshaw Girl, a story about a young girl trying to make a living to save her father’s life.

What I didn’t expect was to find a mind that I completely identified with – that of the scriptwriter. After all, or so I thought, we live on different continents and live completely different lives. If I know anything about Bangladesh apart from frequent flooding and natural disasters (I think), it is also that  every so often we read of a large number of women, garment workers, who die in a factory fires!

That’s true then I realised as our Rickshaw Girl is adamant that even if she has no income or food, that’s not where she is going to work … ever

Work becomes what drives her when her father falls ill and loses the family’s main source of income as a rickshaw man. But she can’t simply take over because to do the work, you have to be male – and after many struggles, that’s what she decides to become – a man.

I lost my heart to our heroine, who had a very specific outlook on the world and what she was prepared to do and take to provide for her family. And that’s how dreams come true…

Not only do you make contact with a different part of the world in this beautiful film, it is again reinforced that we all have the same dreams and desires and will do anything to achieve them. It’s a message of hope and one we could embrace  ̶  especially now.

The Last Shelter: The title explains exactly what this documentary is about. It is the last place of safety for hopeful immigrants in Gao, Mali, a refuge at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. It is a final stay-over for those in transit towards Algeria in the north or their way back from a failed attempt to make it to Europe.

Two teenage girls from Burkina Faso named Esther and Kady are the ones who tell this particular story and the thing that grabs you by the throat is the desperation, the determination, the daring of these two young girls. What is clear, though, is that both feel they don’t have any choice. While everyone they come into contact with explains the hardships and horrors of this particular journey, where else should or could they go?

And probably/possibly, that’s what people don’t understand about immigrants. These journeys aren’t undertaken with much hope, joy or even expectation. Those participating with this level of trauma at play, feel this is their only outcome – even if there’s a 50 percent chance (probably higher) of dying.

I found it mesmerising to watch, especially in these times when many people for whatever reason are reassessing their lives. Those of us who have homes have to think hard about our privileges – really.

I Am Here: This is something completely different but sadly no less harrowing, as one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors, a spirited Ella Blumenthal, at her 98th birthday celebrations tells of her life and her past so that her Cape Town-based family can experience just what she had gone through as a young Jewish girl from Warsaw, Poland during World War 2.

Many of us know the stories and have read and watched many horrific tales but there’s always another tale of heroism and resilience that gives us hope for anything we might have to face in life.

It is Ella’s spirit, her courage and the way she approaches life and the world around her that is so encouraging in someone who has endured more than any of us could even imagine. So many stories, so much pain but there are always those who stand up, fight back and remain vigilant and determined to tell their stories. She’s truly an inspiration.

Zinder: It’s the name of a town, but it kept steering my mind to tinder because that’s what the lifestyle I was being exposed to, reminded me of. Something that might go up in smoke at a whim. It is, however, a town in Niger, and in the poor area of Kara-Kara which used to be a leper’s district, a culture of gang violence reigns.

It’s not the kind of topic that would normally appeal to me, but in this world of the haves and the have nots (and you don’t have to have that much to fall into the first group, and most of the world falls into the second), we have to start paying attention – and the recent events in our own country pointed to just that.

The reason we are watching flames rising in many different parts of the world is because those who have something are so busy accumulating and flourishing that they haven’t noticed those who struggle simply to survive  ̶  day by day. As the apartheid fathers showed, it’s easy to ignore what is happening all around you, if you don’t want to know. Simply turn away.

And this is what makes this festival and its choices such a gripping one, it takes you to places you might be aware of but will never visit. This is your chance, in the safety of your home, and it is both well made and doesn’t cost anything. Even if or when reluctant, I was totally gripped and warmed to the people telling their stories.

It truly is time to pay attention if you haven’t before.

And if I haven’t been persuasive enough …

* The Generation Africa film Zinder directed by Aïcha Macky, won the Ladima Foundation  Adiaha Award for Best Documentary Film by an African woman at this year’s 23rd Encounters South African International Documentary Festival last month.

Winning director for Zinder Aicha Macky

The Jury gave this citation: “For its powerful and engrossing deep-dive into the life and struggles of young people in the streets of her marginalised home town. The director paints a compelling, unadorned and humane portrait of a harsh and neglected corner of the world, providing a non-judgmental and trusting space for her characters to reflect on their own choices and on the social inequity and spirals of violence that pervade their lives.”

The prize includes $2000 towards their next production and an invitation to attend the Dortmund Cologne International Women’s Film Festival 2022 in Germany, where their film will be screened.  

“It is an honour for me and my team to receive this award at the Encounters Festival,” said Macky speaking from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. “The film itself is the result of an ‘encounter’ between me and a newspaper that painted a bleak picture of the youth of my hometown without any glimmer of hope. This is our first international award, and for us it means that this work made from a singular story touches many.  It is the voice of the youth to whom I dedicate this film that begins to remember them.”

At the 2018 Durban FilmMart, Zinder also won the AfriDocs award of €2500 for further development, funded by the Bertha Foundation.

“For STEPS it’s been a great journey working with Aïcha and her co-producers on this film,” enthused Don Edkins, producer at STEPS and AfriDocs. “She has crafted a beautiful film that asks pertinent questions about her country and the futures of its youth. Aicha is not only a courageous woman filmmaker but also a leader in her country’s film community leading the change that young people are yearning for.”

THIS IS NOT A BURIAL, IT’S A RESURRECTION IS A STORY WITH A PERSISTENT BEATING HEART

DIANE DE BEER

Mary Twala captures the anguish of the widow Mantao who is shattered by the impending loss of her ancestral land.

IF YOU HAVE ACCESS TO DStv, YOU CAN CURRENTLY CATCH IT ON BOXOFFICE!

THIS IS NOT A BURIAL, IT’S A RESURRECTION

DIRECTOR, WRITER and EDITOR: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese

CAST: Mary Twala, Jerry Mofokeng, Makhaola Ndebele, Tseko Monaheng and many from the community

MUSIC: Yu Miyashita

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pierre de Villiers

The title of a Lesotho film opening on circuit today (May 21), This is not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection is enough to tweak your interest.

But there’s so much more. Not only is it the first film from Lesotho, made by Mosotho filmmaker, to ever be showcased internationally, it has also set director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese apart as a new African voice to take seriously.

It all started when the self-taught filmmaker and visual artist from Lesotho had his essay film Mother I am Suffocating selected for Final Cut in Venice in 2018, where it won six awards. It went on to premiere at the Berlinale in 2019.

He was then one of three filmmakers selected for Biennale College – Cinema with This Is Not A Burial It’s A Resurrection, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year where it won the Jury Award for Visionary Filmmaking

Director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese

It won a further 26 awards, including eight Best Film Awards and three Best Director awards and Mosese is an alumnus of the Berlinale Talents, Focus Features Africa First, Realness African Screenwriting Residency and Cinefondation’s L’Atelier.

That’s quite a mouthful but once you experience this his debut film, it will all become clear. What we have here is a new cinematic star  in the making – and I’m not exaggerating.

Working with a story that emerged while he was walking (one of his favourite pastimes), it was turned into a flawless script with a powerful authentic voice.

And  this is where the power lies. For too long, these kinds of stories have been told by people distanced from the communities they’re exploring and it shows. But for Mosese, this is a story that impacted him as a young child when he suffered forced removals..

Set in the majestic  mountains of Lesotho, it is the story of an ageing widow, Mantao (Mary Twala Mhlongo) who is grieving the loss of her son. Because of her sorrow she is more determined than ever to be buried with the rest of her family. But her dreams are shattered when she discovers the village and its burial grounds will be forcibly resettled to make way for a dam.

There are many different things that impact this particular film. Like with Nomadland, which has just won the Oscar for Best Film, only a handful of characters are played by professional actors. The rest of the cast is made up of real villagers – and it adds to the texture of the film. You can’t buy that kind of weight in experience. They have actually lived the story they’re  trying to share – or something close enough.

The actors themselves were guided to let go of any affectations to keep it as natural as possible, even though I’m not sure it would have been much of an ask from the likes of Twala (who has since the filming sadly passed away) and Jerry Mofokeng, another brilliant piece of casting in the role of the narrator.

The director who with this effort achieved the status of a “notable new voice in African cinema” internationally, explained during a press  conference that because he is not a trained filmmaker he doesn’t work within a basic set of rules. He tells the story in almost organic fashion, filming certain moments which only become clear to him in the editing process. And there’s not always a reason, it’s just something he feels works in a particular way.

Mosese says he came onto set as a novice. “I allowed myself to dream and not filter anything. I have come to understand that ideas have a life of their own, all I have to do is to free them from myself. Technique and language are things to be used but not necessarily embraced. As far as the camera and composition, Pierre de Villiers has a very particular way of seeing light. I called him ‘the god of the sun’. I also trusted him with the choice of camera, which was the Sony Venice. It served us best in low light conditions.”

And it is this individual interpretation of a story that is his own voice and experience, that works so well. It is a slow story that unfolds in a way that draws you into the emotional heft of what is happening to an old woman who has nothing but her ancestral home and burial ground, where she hopes to find lasting peace, to hold onto.

Finally, stories are being told by those who understand the emotional baggage and the relentlessness of people’s existence. It is this new emergence of voices that enriches the landscape of what is happening on our stages and screens. It is phenomenal and about time.

This is the full package. Add to the story, the dramatic Lesotho backdrop, the fact that you never really get to meet the perpetrators  ̶  simply those who are fighting for their personal dreams and what is rightfully theirs. There’s the photography with the director allowing his cinematographer to do what he knows best. As well as the innovative, original soundtrack which is like another voice, complemented by the singing of the community which cuts deep.

It’s a slow walk, a tone poem, a life of a community, which is simply being ignored by decisions which trample all over their dignity with no consequences to those who are in charge. It is the single-mindedness of a  woman who decides to do what’s right without following the instructions that come from up high that is so important to witness.

The call to join her family is a strong one, the right one and something she cannot ignore. This community has never had much but they had their village in a landscape that for generations has been home. Now they are being told to leave it all behind because their lives are insignificant. But for the elderly Mantoa, it is enough. Hence the title!

I suspect this is a film that will open doors not only to this director but also other emerging storytellers from Southern Africa

Featuring Both Old Worlds and New As European Film Festival 2020 Goes Virtual

Polish film Sweat

It’s movie bonanza in November with the annual European Film Festival going virtual for free. The movies are premiere productions from different European countries with topics ranging from serious to silly, depending on your mood. DIANE DE BEER takes a closer look:

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, European movies were commonplace on our screens. Not so much anymore – sadly. But it has been remedied, the blow softened by the emergence of the annual European Film Festival from November 12 to 22. And in the past couple of years, the contributions have been quite extraordinary.

Not much good has come from this year, yet trust the innovation of the arts to save the day every once in a while. This year’s European Film Festival goes virtual and the good news is that it comes for free – bar one which many will gladly pay to see.

With a diverse line-up of 12 brand new films, all of which are premiere screenings in South Africa, for those who have been lost without movies it’s a bonanza with a wide range of topics and performers from different European countries.

Making a personal pick of four films to watch in advance, I started with two very different war movies – a sign of the times:

Belgian contribution Home Front directed by Lucas Belvaux is set in a small French village where the 60th birthday of one of its female inhabitants is being celebrated.

But times stops when her estranged brother (in the imposing yet almost brutish form of Gerard Depardieu) suddenly interrupts the festivities.

The implosion is almost immediate but apparently also not unexpected. That he turns up with a gift is what surprises everyone, but he quickly eradicates any possible goodwill by upending the proceedings – and thus the film unfolds in a horrific story of war set in the past but with the present of this small community held in a vice grip that seems immovable.

It’s a thoughtful and beautifully wrought film, unexpected in its powerful storytelling of a past that is hidden, mostly in shame, but also in denial as happens with war and the atrocities (in this instance mostly) men do, in situations of entitlement and terror.

Delicately told, it also unveils a story of racism between two countries of which everyone is aware but the victors rarely acknowledge – and those times are illuminated by a harsh spotlight that cannot be ignored – and hopefully allow people to move on .

It’s of its time yet perfect for our current times when marginalised lives matter.

War is also the subject of Lithuania’s In The Dusk directed by Sharunas Bartas and part of the Official Cannes Selection 2020.

It is post-World War 2, 1948, but it is as if no one has noticed that the war has ended. “You can find the same war in Ukraine – and its happening today,” says the director by way of explanation. And it is exactly that.

Imagine that the rest of the world is still in shock and recovering from a world war but yours is still ongoing. Yet no one cares, they’re done. And that’s when those who want to invade find fertile ground. “It’s a world of real wars, not Cold Wars or hybrid wars,” the director elaborates.

Lithuanian film In The Dusk

Living in the forest near the family farm to which the  19-year-old Unte returns from the war, is a partisan group resisting Soviet occupation. While the invaders are promising better times, having just come through a long period of war, those defending their country are suspicious. They know not to trust and are determined to stick it out.

It’s a grey and grim reality for those who can hardly survive in peaceful times and now have to keep fighting for their homeland. But that’s what war is.

And perhaps these two films want to make exactly that point. There are no winners. For those dying to keep the fight going all around the world, what is the end game?

But again it is hauntingly shot, the performances detailed and emotional, especially from the young Unte and his father, and the harsh reality simply cannot be kept at bay.

Talking about marginalised people, especially with extremists again causing mayhem and murder in Europe, they don’t come more targeted than the British Pakistani rapper in Mogul Mowgli starring the extraordinary Riz Ahmed, such an exciting young actor who makes such interesting role choices.

British film Mogul Mowgli

As Zed, he is on the cusp of a huge career breakout tour, but is suddenly struck down by a terrifying illness and forced to move back into his conservative family home. Here he has to battle not only the disappointment but also the traditions of his parents which are far removed from what he hoped his life would be.

Quite a few films and TV series have been made about second generation immigrants who have to balance the imbalance between their land of birth and the traditions of their parents, but this is a novel approach and one that reaches across genres and generations.

It’s the UK’s offering and a smart one at that, with the whole world trying to come to terms with shifting borders and identities. Directed by Bassam Tariq, it won the Fipresci Prize in the Panorama section of the 2020 Berlinale. It’s both thought-provoking and cunningly told with rap playing a vital role.

Herman Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund could sound quite daunting, but I was quite fascinated as I wasn’t familiar with the book but had seen director Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Oscar-winning film The Counterfeiters.

This is something completely different and even though the film disappointed, I was pleased to engage with the story.

Austrian film Narcissus and Goldmund

This Austrian entry is set in the dark Middle Ages where two very different characters meet in a monastery, become close friends, but choose very different lives. Narcissus prefers to spend his life in prayer and meditation even though he has fallen in love with his adventurous friend Goldmund. He in turn decides to escape into the more enticing life outside of the restrictions of religion to lead a more hedonistic life.

The problem was in the script rather than the filmmaking. It felt as if the scope could have been narrowed down to bring more substance instead of a sketchy retelling of the basic storyline. Too much information and too little enquiry.

Despite the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, EU Ambassador to South Africa, Dr Riina Kionka, said: “Twelve films in 11 days shows the determination of this European partnership to overcome difficult circumstances. Since my arrival in South Africa this is my second European Film Festival:  I can tell you that it is a cultural highlight not to be missed. In addition, I invite you to participate in the various special events lined up during the Festival!”  

Dutch film Becoming Mona

Other films include: 

  • Marco Bellocchio’s award-winning film The Traitor  about an ‘80s whistleblowing  mafia boss-turned-informer who triggers the largest prosecution of the Sicilian mafia in Italian history.
  • The German film Curveball is a sober warning about how terribly easy it is to slip into war, with this fact-based story about how a lie regarding chemical weapons sets in motion a chain of events that results in the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, forever changing the global political landscape.
  • The Spanish film One Careful Owner tells how a woman buys a new home with a certain ‘inconvenience’, namely that the 80-year old current owner will remain living in it until she dies. It’s a story filled with tenderness, emotion and much laughter. 
  • Also honing in on female relationships, the French film Proxima, by director Alice Winocour, is about a French woman astronaut who is forced to consider her priorities of family versus career. *
  • Becoming Mona, directed bySabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden, deals with Mona’s struggle to break free from the stifling constraints of a life lived in service of other people’s egos.  
  • The Polish film Sweat by director Magnus van Horn focuses on a fitness motivator who has become a social media celebrity and influencer, highly pertinent issues in this modern digital era.

 The line-up also includes two powerful documentaries.   The Irish representative, The 8th, is about the highly emotive and divisive topic of abortion and women’s reproductive rights. And Nathan Grossman’s deeply personal Swedish documentary I am Greta follows the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg from her one-person school strike to her astonishing wind-powered voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City. 

The festival is accessible online across South Africa only. The film screenings are free, except for I am Greta, whose entry fee of R50 serves as a fundraiser for a climate action group that will be awarded screening proceeds after the festival.

Look out for the full programme of screenings and special events as well as bookings on  https://films.eurofilmfest.co.za/ only available for viewing in South Africa.

It’s Time to Catch up with Some Extraordinary Performances both Local and International – all of them Universal

Kev Mike on beach
Cody Mountain as Kev and Joel Rosenblatt as Mike in Cut-Out Girls

These are tough times and yet for those of us privileged enough to stream and have other entertainment options like DStv, the options of how to pass the time with reading, movies, theatre, documentaries in-between work, are endless.

DIANE DE BEER reviews three of her current favourites:

We have to start with local and I was thrilled to see when Nicola Hanekom’s debut movie Cut-Out Girls appeared on Box-Office (currently at a mere R25 a movie).

Hanekom is one of our most exciting theatre director/writers who has recently also moved into television and now film, with this, her first feature film. In interviews she explains that she first wrote it as a play, specifically for young actors she was working with at the time.

The audience reaction  was so unexpected (it’s a story about date rape), that she decided it needed a wider audience, and in this instance a film. These are debut film roles for all the youngsters. That’s amazing! And they had to do crowdfunding to make it all happen.

Rape is such a scourge in this country that we are all duty bound to talk about it. Even with this pandemic, around the world, abuse is a huge problem because so many people cannot deal with this kind of pressure and violence is their own release.

And with the young, the world we live in now, it’s not that everyone has to live scared, but they have to live smart. We have to know the dangers out there and how to keep ourselves safe – women and especially young women, who don’t yet have their cynicism radars working fulltime, have to be vigilant.

I remember Redi Thlabi in her book Endings and Beginnings writing about being scared when walking to school at the age of 11, highlighting the parallel universes we live in. Nevertheless, we’re all vulnerable and what Hanekom’s exposé uncovers so smartly, are the monsters within.

It is sometimes the boy next door, the tennis star, the popular personality at school who feels entitled. Because danger is something we live with in this world, we sometimes forget when we have to be on our guard. And this is the aspect Hanekom spotlights.

Being both writer and director and informed by an intimate knowledge of the cast, she could work smartly with a small budget. You certainly don’t feel short-changed and the performances are beautifully balanced.

It’s a film of our time, speaks to both young and old and extends the reach of one of our most innovative artists.

Harriet starring Cynthia Erivo
Harriet starring a powerful Cynthia Erivo

Another film I was keen to see, is also part of the Box-Office collection. Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet Tubman in Harriet, the woman who not only escapes from slavery herself, but also freed many slaves as part of the underground railroad, a perilous freedom endeavour of that time.

At some point, Harriet says people should not be owned by other people, a sentence that is so obvious yet so ignored – even today – still. That’s why these stories are so important. This is also the time when the people affected (still today) by these abominations are the ones telling the stories. That makes a huge difference in both tone and authenticity.

And for this one specifically, Cynthia Erivo’s performance is epic. She was rewarded with the ONLY Oscar nomination for an actor of colour and also for the best original song, which she both co-wrote and performed. She’s a remarkable talent both as actor and singer. She has a strength of character and a powerful presence, which served the character well and her voice has a quality that stops you in your tracks.

Her rewards have been well deserved and this following huge controversy because she was a British actor playing an American character – but she proved them wrong and hopefully people were big enough to concede and witness her prowess.

The story is a great one but there are problems with the way the story was told – just clumsy and sometimes with too little subtlety and sensitivity. One would think it is a story that almost tells itself especially with Erivo as your talisman.

But it remains a story worthy of your time and money.

NT Doon Mackichan (Feste) Tamsin Greig (Malvolia). Picture Marc Brenner
Doon Mackichan (Feste) and Tamsin Greig (Malvolia). Picture Marc Brenner

Last on the list is the latest NT Live streaming of 12th Night with Tamsin Greig as the main attraction. But she says herself, this is an ensemble cast as anyone familiar with this Shakespeare comedy will recognise. And while this is a matter of confusingly mistaken and hidden identity throughout, with director Simon Godwin’s gender-fluid production, you really have to keep your wits about you.

Greig is cast as Malvolio (or in this case Malvolia) and hers is the performance on which the play hangs. Not only is the gender switch in these times fun to watch and navigate but with a play that is a dialogue between order and disorder, puritanism and revelry, and finally, control and fear with terror the driver of control, another contemporary evil.

That is how the director viewed it says Greig in an interview which is useful to watch (even with a few spoilers) before getting into the play itself. It’s also part of the NT Live stable on YouTube and easy to find.

We have had our own innovative 12th Night (a Clare Stopford production in 1998 with amongst others Langley Kirkwood, Isadora Verwey, David Dennis and Bo Peterson) and it is a play that lends itself to interpretation as you heighten both the comic and tragic effects at will.

NT Phoebe Fox as Olivia second from the right. Picture Marc Brenner
Phoebe Fox as Olivia second from the right with her entourage. Picture Marc Brenner

This being a first class British cast with some exceptional performances, a set that enhances the fast flow of the story, some excellent songs with a brilliant burlesque interlude stuck in between, Shakespeare can hardly be more contemporary. Just check a striking ensemble stepping out in their 21st Century ubiquitous veils.

It’s sassy and smart with as much laughter as there’s food for thought in a time when gender fluidity and identity could not be more centre stage. It’s exactly where we are now as Shakespeare in his constantly shows us: the more it changes, the more it stays the same.

Catch it on NT Live on YouTube until Thursday at 8pm when Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch follows. Don’t miss that either.

 

 

Moffie Underlines That We Should Constantly Be Reminded Lest We Forget

moffie1It’s a movie that looks to the past to ensure a better future. DIANE DE BEER reviews:

 

MOFFIE

Director: Oliver Hermanus

Cast: Kai Luke Brümmer, Matthew Vey, Ryan de Villiers and many more

Script: (Based on the book by André Carl van der Merwe) Oliver Hermanus, Jack Sidey

Director of Photography: Jamie D. Ramsay

Original Music: Braam du Toit

Moffie Kai Luke Brummer
Kai Luke Brümmer as Nicholas van der Swart on his way to war…

It is the desolation and despair that hits you in the gut from the beginning (helped by Du Toit’s extraordinary soundtrack) and determines how you follow the story of a young conscript, Nicholas van der Swart (Brümmer), who not only has to complete two years of compulsory military service to defend the apartheid regime, but also faces all the horror that implies.

The title of the film sets one up to expect a certain type of film, a story that’s familiar, and then it becomes something completely different.

It’s a vicious coming-of-age story set against a particular backdrop. This isn’t simply your usual army setup where young adults are turned into fighting machines, prepared for war. It’s that, but with the apartheid regime part of every aspect of life.

Moffie exercise
Physical exercise is the least of their problems.

The brutal power that the instructors/superiors exerted over these 18-year olds who in the protected white world of South Africa in 1980 had never experienced such harshness, is a constant reminder of what happened to those who were considered the “real” enemy.

That is made very clear right at the start when a man’s dignity is torn apart by someone he would have considered a child. The difference in their status is determined solely by their race.

It’s an horrific, rough ride because of the unjust war being fought and further exacerbated by the enmity between the English and Afrikaans conscripts as well as another enemy being fought at the time – communism. That was after all what fueled the border wars. Not only were the conscripts fighting the Angolans, they were also fighting the Cubans and their Russian masters, as every South African was reminded relentlessly. Add to that a confusion about sexuality and you have the ingredients for the perfect storm.

moffie2
The onslaught of life on a young mind.

Hermanus explains his own relationship with the word moffie: “It is a potent and derogatory Afrikaans term for gay. It is a South African weapon of shame, used exclusively to oppress gay or effeminate. You start to hide from it when you are called this word for the first time. You begin to edit yourself. That is when you begin to pretend to be someone else for the first time. All you know about that word is that it is bad. You are rejectable, unlikable and unacceptable, and during apartheid, just like a black man or woman, you were a crime.”

Which says everything about the film. It isn’t just about a gay relationship, it’s also about a system that added to the trauma of going to the army. Here for the first time as a white conscript you were faced with unfettered power and what happens to people who would never have that kind of authority anywhere else. Most of the time, they turn into monsters – even towards their own.

It’s also what happened in a wider context all around the country when one race dominates and feels superior to another and to add weight to that, it is the law of the land with the majority oppressed by the minority. The sums don’t add up of course and the only way to control that power is by brute force and terror – as witnessed in the army.

Moffie
The harsh reality of war.

How, as a young man having gone through this nightmare whatever your persuasion do you behave once you are released into the real world? All of these issues swirl about while you’re watching the suffering of these somewhat bewildered young men who have so much to contend with, with their sexuality adding to the consternation of the equation.

It is a beautifully made movie. It starts with the casting which was an intensive process because of the number of 18-year-olds needed. What they’re landed with is a group of, at the beginning, mostly non-professionals and yet they were given the research and the training to do an amazing job.

Moffie masters
Hilton Pelser as Sergeant Brand, the man who terrorises his troops.

It’s a story dealing with little subtlety and yet told with such delicacy that the horror looms large – yet silently. You are left to experience and understand without being told. The harshness of life imposed on everyone, even those who benefited from the system, is clear but because most of what is happening is unspoken, the youngsters at the heart of the story are given no ammunition with which to explore, understand and communicate their confusion.

Some cope but barely, others give up and life simply overwhelms them.

Moffie is a film about the Other, anything that doesn’t conform to a given “norm” and something apartheid represented in its most extreme. It reminds us of what people – all with the same needs and desires – do to each other when they believe they have the right because of their race, gender, sexuality, religion, or any other distinguishing characteristic that is determined at a given time.

And we should constantly be reminded, lest we should ever forget.

*Countless nominations at the Venice International Film Festival, the London Film Festival, British Independent Film Awards, Screen International Critics Choice The Mermaid Award (best LGBTQI-themed film) – Thessaloniki International Film Festival