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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
Kev (Cody Mountain) and Jenna (Kesiah Gabriel) in Cut-Out Girls.
Clea (Ashleigh van der Hoven) in Cut-Out Girls
Clea (Ashleigh van der Hoven) in Cut-Out Girls
Anni (Atlanta Johnson) in Cut-Out Girls
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s a movie that looks to the past to ensure a better future. DIANE DE BEER reviews:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
It’s been a momentous time in the #MeToo sphere with the Harvey Weinstein convictions – finally. And even with two hard hitting books out there detailing all the women and what they have gone through, the jury still found him culpable of only two of the five counts. With many other similar issues swirling about, DIANE DE BEER speaks her mind:
There’s hardly a woman who works professionally that won’t have some kind of memory about sexual harassment. I suppose with everything being aired these past few years, those of us who haven’t suffered sexual abuse should count ourselves lucky.
But I was surprised about my emotional response to Bombshell, the film starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie about the horrific abuse by Roger Ailes and many more who were part of the Fox empire.
I had seen and was fascinated by The Loudest Voice, the TV series told with the accent on the bullying tactics of Roger Ailes and the culture of sexy women he created in the Fox Newsroom and on screen.
When Bombshell arrived, I felt I had viewed enough of this particular story, until someone whose judgement I trust told me to see it as this was from the women’s point of view. I didn’t realise the impact that would have on a very personal level which says so much about the culture most women find themselves in at work.
We don’t even notice because it is so prevalent and probably to most of us “normal”, so when seeing this particular film, which shows especially the environment created specifically so that this kind of thing can flourish, my flesh crawled – to my surprise.
But it was no surprise that with the final credits a notice announces that the women received 50 million dollars in damages: while Roger Ailes and another Fox News accused, Bill O’Reilly, received 65 million dollars’ worth of parting packages.
Fox News is the extreme so there’s no turning away from that aspect of the film. And with these three powerful actresses in control, it resonates dramatically and memories came flooding back. “How are the dollies doing?” was a particular rankling phrase coming from a boss or the fact that you were told that your salary increase was determined by the fact that your partner worked in IT. “That means he earns big bucks,” was the feeling. And the list of constant humiliations goes on.
And then when these men are “caught”, they are so powerful that they manoeuvre everything and everyone around them. Read Ronan Farrow’s book (reviewed in this space earlier) Catch and Kill and She Said and see what happened to these award-winning writers in the process of writing the book. It wasn’t only Weinstein who came out guns blazing, he had many who colluded and further made it tough for anyone who wanted to expose his evil practices.
And perhaps what upset me the most was the humiliation that these women, many of them with powerful careers (and not because of Roger Ailes), had to go through on a daily basis. If this is the man who employs you, how does the rest of the world view you? He in fact lays down the rules of how you appear on camera and what you are allowed to say.
Something that was always an unwritten rule in media was that your newspaper had your back if those on the outside were upset with your reporting of the facts – the newspaper would stand up for you and in that way, bring balance to the power dynamic. But that’s not what happened at Fox. When Fox news correspondent Megyn Kelly was taunted by President Trump, it was another stick in the Ailes arsenal to keep her in line.
These constant games are also part of the ritual to keep everyone functioning in place and not to overstep or rock the boat. You learn very early on when to hold back and when to fight for specific rights. Some you win and others you lose.
Others make you smile – wryly. The first time women were really promoted into certain positions was post ’94 when they were included in the list of appropriate candidates because of the neglect in the past.
Suddenly in newspaper offices around the country, women started appearing in management positions and even the first female editors started to emerge. It wasn’t a sudden belief in the ability of women. White men just thought them the lesser of all the evils!
And so one could go on and on. And that’s why women around the world were thrilled about the Weinstein conviction but…
And said best by the following tweet:
Shailja Patel: @shailapatel: (Kenyan poet, author, feminist, activist, now self-exiled after she accused a fellow Kenyan writer of sexual assualt and was ordered by the court to pay damages and apologise to the man who assaulted her, so she left the country.)
No guilty verdict of jail sentence, even for life, can restore what Harvey Weinstein stole from his victims. Or repair the harm he inflicted on his decades-long reign of terror over an entire industry. But this is a tiny crack in the wall of impunity. Let patriarchy tremble.
She nails it!. So while we all watch and wait, the battle goes on but at least because of their shining a light so strongly, the #MeToo movement is starting to show results.
CAST: Clementine Mosimane, Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Chris Gxalaba, Nomsa Nene, Rolanda Marais.
Age Restriction: 13 DLPV
When author Elsa Joubert wrote what is probably her best known novel, Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena (translated by Joubert herself into English in 1980 as The long Journey of Poppie Nongena), she realised that in trying to describe the horrific mass injustice of an ideology like apartheid, it was best to tell a very personal story to get to the heart of it – and also persuade those on the side of the regime at the time to take a hard look at the personal suffering of ordinary people.
For something like Apartheid to succeed, you have to hide most of the horror from ordinary people who aren’t directly involved and that’s what Joubert so successfully reveals in the novel.
All these decades later, the story of Poppie Nongena, a domestic worker with an Afrikaner family, harshly exposes the traumatic life of one woman who has only one goal in mind, to care for her own family (mostly in absentia) by making ends meet while caring for the needs of another family.
The most obvious difference, a fact which sadly still matters in our world, is race. The family Poppie Nongena works for is white while she is black and not regarded as a participating citizen of the country she was born in – apartheid South Africa.
It is the levels of bureaucracy she has to endure while simply trying to keep her family together and alive as her children are sent to what the government of the day regard as her home, a place she didn’t know but because of her particular ethnicity was regarded as her birthplace.
For those who didn’t live in those times, don’t ask. That was the point. Nothing had to make sense because the people these rules were being applied to, had no voice and much of their hardship was hidden (in the townships, for example, where hardly any white people ever went). The enforcers were people who would never have had this kind of power in any normal society and they wielded it often with great relish and no reason.
Director/script writer Christiaan Olwagen says he regards the film as a love letter to mothers and believes that we have to remember the past so that this kind of madness is never practiced again. He also points out that it is a story for today’s migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, making the point that history – perhaps especially the worst of it – repeats itself time and again.
With a script (co-written by Saartjie Botha, someone who has mastered book adaptations with great insight) that hits all the right marks, his other genius is the casting of Clementine Mosimane as Poppie. This was no easy task, because to start with, the film was shot in Afrikaans (with English subtitles) and the actors all had to know and speak the language.
But more than that, it is the essence of Poppie that determines the heartbeat of the film. She is a quiet woman who goes about her life without complaining because she has to find a way to live best with the cards she has been dealt. These are harsh and she has discovered that in the country she lives, if she wants to make any headway, she has to become invisible and not make any demands on the people with power – even those who seem to care. The system was set up in a way to discourage anyone to reach out a helping hand. Even for the small stuff. And few did. If you were black, you were usually out there on your own.
Mosimane colours her Poppie with grace and dignity so that the harshness of everything that happens to her is amplified and understood for what it was. The only thing that determined your well-being was the colour of your skin. And if it was black, you were born to serve – nothing more. Because of her performance, the lump in your throat never disappears and you are drawn into her world every step of the way.
There’s little that has to be said about the system because the way it lands on Poppie’s body is all we need to feel every single indignity she has to suffer every minute. It might be hiding under a bridge with her husband from the police, or a white madam who can’t bear to face her own life, so she focuses on the lives of others – especially those who have no recourse.
Mosimane gives a performance of breath-taking honesty and fortunately this is where the focus lies. She is also supported by an outstanding ensemble inlcuding Van der Merwe, Hanekom, Marais, Nene and Gxalaba.
Less successful, were the crowd scenes of which there were a few, some heated, others not so much. But a certain amount of staged choreography creeped through in the costumes, the props and the crowds themselves.
Comparison is odious, but I was struck by the world of mayhem and murder created by Sam Mendes in 1917 taking you back to the fields of World War 1. In Poppie one can “witness” every stone being carefully placed to create a ravaged road.
The crowds also seemed too practised rather than spontaneous – which is what one would want to achieve – which detracts from the emotions because as a viewer, you watch the action rather than tap into the story.
But these are minors, which don’t diminish the important story. Olwagen has proved with this one that he has earned his film stripes in a big way. As a celebrated stage director (and I hope we haven’t lost him totally to the big screen), he has spent the past few years making movies.
Still a youngster in artistic terms, his talents grow with each outing as it did when he was directing for stage. It’s going to be a great journey to witness as his confidence and skills expand with each new venture.
It’s time once again to try your hand at predicting the 2020 Academy Award winners and heighten the Oscar Buzz!
Ster-Kinekor’s annual Oscar Buzz started with a red-carpet screening last week, featuring the Golden Globe winning war film 1917, directed, co-written and produced by Sam Mendes reviewed by DIANE DE BEER.
This is just one of the Oscar-nominated films currently on Ster-Kinekor screens along with finalist for Best Foreign Film, Les Miserables. There’s Renee Zellweger’s much rewarded turn in Judy, which has earned her another shot at Best Actress.
Jojo Rabbit, Ford vs. Ferrari, Little Women, Joker, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite and The Irishman are all vying for the top honour of Best Film.
DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes
CAST: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay
SCRIPT: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Deakins
MUSIC: Thomas Newman
The reason we know so much more about World War 2 than World War 1 has much to do with movies. When the second one came round, movies were part of the equation. That’s a huge marketing tool and we’re still watching different versions today.
Another stumbling block was the static nature of World War 1. It was basically fought from the trenches, a much more difficult story to tell visually.
According to Mendes, this one had been with him a long time and had been waiting for the technology to catch up before it could be told. With the movie dedicated to his grandfather, Alfred H. Mendes, whom he describes in interviews as a “great storyteller”, he grew up listening to the stories of a soldier who was a messenger for the British on the Western Front. In the meantime he was involved on a large scale with two Bond films, which prepared him for a work of this magnitude.
But then he made it even more difficult for himself. As a theatre maker first, he knows he has to engage his audience. This is done by bringing his two protagonists up close and personal to the action. In fact, the focus is constantly on the two young soldiers, Blake (Chapman) and Schofield (MacKay), two little- known actors who wouldn’t detract from, yet be the story.
In this one, the bit parts are played by star actors like Mark Strong, Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch. And it works magnificently as you buy into this hair-raising task being given to the young lads with the additional impetus of the one’s emotional attachment with a brother being part of the bargain.
They have to warn a British commander that the retreat of the German army is a trap to draw them into what would be a massacre. There are no radios or any other way of getting this message to the troops, who will die in their thousands if the advancement isn’t stopped.
The drama is set and the action starts almost immediately with enough drama to keep everyone pinned to their seats. As the two young men travel as fast as they can on foot, we see the devastation they find along the way. There’s no missing the rats scuttling for food as seriously as the soldiers, and small details like flies circling a dead horse become part of the grim picture.
But these are minor. We might not have seen as many movies, but the casualty count of that war, about 40 million, rank it as one of the deadliest. Bodies become part of the visual journey as they appear absolutely everywhere.
This might not be a fighting movie as such, but war is always the narrative as the two soldiers are determined to do their duty for their fellow countrymen. It’s a story about the horror of war whether fought in the trenches or by drones, but it’s also about valour, making the right choices and not even considering the weight of the task if it means saving lives – even those of the enemy, on occasion.
Depending on which way you watch this, more than the movie itself, the making is quite astounding. But that has always been a Mendes trademark, think American Beauty but in this fighting landscape, perhaps Road to Perdition is more telling. It’s played like a theatre piece.
And in 1917, because of the way the story unfolds, the choices made, you are cast in the centre of the drama every step of the way.
There’s no glance across the hills on the other side to show the enemy lurking. If they can’t see it, neither can you. And that’s the real drama of the story which is constantly in a state of high tension as the two men make their way beyond enemy lines wherever this may be. It’s also the way it is shot, walking each step together.
The narrative sometimes runs away with itself trying to impose all the emotions found in waging a war. That’s impossible and it cannot but become mawkish where one wonders whether some of it really needed to be part of the story. The sentiment is understood, but the telling of it stumbles and falls.
There are a few such incidents, none of which was necessary. Sam Mendes is an extraordinary storyteller. His recent Lehman Trilogy on NT Live bristled with imagination and every decision he made contributed to the masterpiece.
Similarly here with the way the story unfolds and the many decisions he had to make about crucial elements in the dramatisation of this war-time epic. It is the story that is sometimes burdened with incidents added on to make a specific point which is already part of the narrative and the character.
The valour of these two men can never be questioned, even when they do it themselves. That they portray the best there is when it comes to sacrifice and serving your fellow human beings – even the enemy – is evident. A more stripped down version without some of the embellishment would have served the film better.
And yet, because of the way Mendes made the film, there are these two strands that run side by side and pique your interest throughout: on the one hand there is the story as it is told and on the other, the marvellous movie-making which is what earns him the accolades and statuettes I believe.
He holds you in the palm of his hand throughout. That’s a gift not many can claim. Sam Mendes has it in abundance and even when he doesn’t achieve it all, it’s still pretty spectacular.