Hard Hitting Message Movies at European Film Festival at SK Cinema Nouveau in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town

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A shot from the opening scenes of Les Miserables setting the scene of young protesters.

The European Film Festival is strongly issue-driven this year which takes us into the eye of the storm of what people are struggling with around the world: from immigration to homelessness, the scourge of survival at any cost and even ageing with the baby boomers all hitting their final stride. DIANE DE BEER reviews:

While we’re complaining about the heat, a film like Rosie reminds you about lives battling with real problems.

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Short solace in the back of a car in Rosie

This Irish family of six, Rosie, her husband John Paul and four kids, three of them still only tots, are out house hunting. The thing is, they’re only searching for the night, every night, and because it’s such a struggle to find one room a night before the kids go back to school, there’s no time to look for anything more permanent.

While her husband is at work at a restaurant, a tough slog, the kids are dropped off at school and Rosie can get to phoning the hotels for a family room for the night – with one toddler in tow. “I never knew there were so many hotels in Dublin,” she tells her brother-in-law who is trying to tell her that they can’t look after the family dog any longer, one of the few emotional lifts they have left with which to give the kids a bit of joy.

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Capturing a moment of happiness in the sorrow of Rosie.

It’s heart wrenching as the family is left destitute and yet there’s a warmth amongst the adult couple as they try holding it together for the children who are struggling with these dire circumstances. Life is tough enough without any of these circumstances added to the daily burdens. Keep that in mind as you think of the unemployment numbers in this country and the people who are represented by those numbers.

It’s brilliantly made, and even if bleak, it’s a story of our time and has to be told. And we have to pay attention.

If you’re thinking Les Misérables the musical, think again. It reminded of a recent television interview by a young Limpopo student leader who was speaking in protest at a fellow student’s murder, which included rape and 52 stabbings with a knife. Her anger was palpable as she told of students reporting rape to their local police station only to be told, it was their boyfriend.

With a similar disregard for young lives, the police, who claim to have worked this particular banlieue for 10 years, are looking for a lion cub that was stolen from the circus. One kid in particular is targeted and in a scuffle with the youngsters who are becoming quite menacing, one of the policemen fires his gun and harms this particular boy.

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Five young lads from Les Miserables

The rest of the film is about trying to destroy the footage shot of this incident but also trying to keep the young wounded warrior from actually dying and bringing the incident to light in a way the police don’t want it spotlighted.

This is a time when the voiceless in different areas of life are starting to speak up and they’re doing it loudly. The one gives the other courage perhaps, but even more likely is the disgust experienced by different groupings in society at the complete disregard for their lives. They have finally hit urgency levels which needs addressing.

It’s gritty, hard-hitting but these stories need to be told and taken seriously. What makes this one so incisive is the fact that this debut director, Ladj Ly, and many of the cast are telling the story of their suburb. They know these streets and these people. It is their lives.

It deservedly won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, received the Best International Feature Film at the Durban International Film Festival in July, and has been selected as the French entry for the Best Foreign Film for the 2020 Oscars. It will be distributed locally by Videovision next year.

Delivering the innocents in Vice of Hope.

In similar fashion, the aptly named Vice of Hope hones in on the women, both heroes and villains, who live on the edges of the towns surrounding Naples.

It deals with poverty, African immigration, human trafficking and the surrogacy business that follows as a result. It’s almost impossible to escape this nightmarish life as the young girls have babies who are then sold on the market before the cycle repeats itself again and again.

Those not making babies are pulled in to keep the others in line and, life being what it is on the edge of these waters, it doesn’t take long for them to fall into the same trap.

Like so many of the other films, it’s a bleak picture of what it takes to survive but it also shows the strength of those who are determined to survive and hold the hands of others to drag them out of these dastardly circumstances.

Protagonist Maria with her only faithful friend.

Life deals different cards to different communities, which is why phrases like first world problems are much darker than they may seem. Most of the time, survival means choosing between life and death, with neither choice being an easy one.

We live in a world where the problems seem insurmountable and we think we would do better to simply turn away. But in today’s world, that’s not an option any longer as filmmakers not only stories of fantasy, but also show us the real world in all its horror.

We need to know.

Antonio Almodovar as Salvador in Pain and Glory

Who can resist a Pedro Almodóvar movie and with his latest Pain and Glory, described by many as his finest in many years, it’s a rare treat. The ageing director hitting his 70s is in a reflective mood as he casts a wary eye towards the future while looking back with lingering love at especially life with his mother, always a force in his films.

With two of his favourite actors, Antonio Banderas as Salvador, the weary director who is more at ease doing nothing and obsessing about his ailing body and mind, and the exquisite Penelope Cruz playing his adored mother, a time he reflects on when he was still a young boy, this is Almodóvar baring his soul – even if it isn’t, strictly speaking, all his life.

Penelope Cruz in Pain and Glory
Penelope Cruz in Pain and Glory.

There’s enough to tempt you into thinking so, which adds to the oft melodramatic meanderings of a director who feels he still has enough to say and yet, has neither the energy nor the spirit to do so.

But even as he seems to step out of his life, he finds a way to make his own mindful meanderings cinematic in a blast of colour that all those passionate about Pedro’s artistic bent will appreciate.

It’s like poetry as he walks you through the different moods with people of his past and present, all of them impacted by his artistic talent and the way he told his stories and lived his life. Even when someone’s life looks like something to be desired, that’s never true. We are all trying to navigate the best we can, with all our neuroses and passions, the best life we can possibly live.

This one predictably has been earmarked as Spain’s 2020 Oscar nomination and watch out for a few general nominations as well.

See http://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/ for detailed synopses, trailers and links to the screening schedule and ticket bookings.



Movies Make the World Go Round

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Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodóvar’s 21st film, Pain and Glory, described as his best in years.

Movies screened locally don’t seem to be what they used to be, but perhaps we’re just spoilt for choice with better television and streaming possibilities. DIANE DE BEER spotlights an exceptional European Film Festival:

For those who miss the Almodóvars, haven’t seen the latest Gavin Hood, Official Secret, and simply want to get a handle on some of the issues truly rocking the world today, a ten-day feast of award-winning films are up for grabs as the European Film Festival celebrates its 6th edition in South Africa.

The festival will be held simultaneously at Cinema Nouveau theatres in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town from Friday November 29 to December 8.

Issues seem to be the driving force and it is fascinating to see how an overwhelming crisis like refugees is being dealt with by filmmakers, for example.

Representing Austria, Styx tells the story of the transformation of a woman sailor when she becomes the only person to come to the aid of a group of refugees shipwrecked on the high seas.

She is in fact on her way to fulfilling a longtime dream to sail alone to Ascension Island to experience a Darwinian experiment of natural plant and animal life.

Things don’t go as expected and she is  caught in a refugee crisis as she finds herself in the proximity of a boat with 100 people about to drown.

Naturally she would save them but the odds on a yacht made for one is certain death, for herself included. The next best thing is of course to alert the authorities or boats in the vicinity to the crisis.

It’s hair-raising stuff but beautifully crafted as it captures the crisis of one caring individual who hopes to make a difference – but on a larger scale, it also encapsulates the world we live in right now.

The carefully curated festival is packed with Oscar-nominated and multi-award-winning films from twelve countries including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

System Crasher is Germany’s choice for next year’s Oscars. It is a debut film for the director and the title refers to a child who breaks all the rules. Benni (a fantastic performance by Helena Zengel) is an angelic-looking nine-year-old who swings wildly from an innocent waif to a violent wild child that has everyone around her perplexed and unable to reach her.

It is the story of one child so  severely traumatised by rejection that anything sets her off in a way that not only harms herself but also those around her. It’s tough to watch yet beautifully told and acted, not giving any easy solutions yet pointing to the dangers of neglect and how that can impact not only the life of one child but a whole community.

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Director’s muse Joanna Kulig (with Tomasz Koz blurred and to the side) in Cold War Picture: Zimna Wojna

Cold War, a passionate love story between a music director and a young singer, is perhaps an antidote  to some of the harsh yet compelling issues some of the other films represent. But as the title suggests, this is no walk in  the park – perhaps a doomed love affair (or not) exquisitely presented.

After all, Pawel Pawlikowski’s extraordinary black and white masterpiece (following the success of Ida, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2015) grabbed the Best Director prize at Cannes before earning three Oscar nominations at the Academy Awards in 2019, and another five European Film Awards before that.

This is a couple who struggle to stay together but simply can’t leave one another alone. It is the director’s love letter to his parents, a love affair that was less enchanting to be a part of, and he has cast two astonishing actors, Joanna Kulig (also starring in Ida) and Tomasz Kot to star in this personal tale.

The highly awarded Girl, from Flanders in Belgium, tells the story of 15-year-old Lara who dreams of becoming a ballerina. More importantly, this is a transgender story with Lara who was born into the body of a boy, undergoing treatment in preparation for gender reassignment surgery. Her ambitions are heady taking into consideration everything she has to deal with.

Added to that, she is being raised by her father with a four-year-old brother who falls mostly under her care. The film illustrates some of the tough challenges she faces with a changing body and in addition, one that hasn’t been built for the challenges of being a ballerina.

There has been some controversy about the film because neither the director, writer or actor are transgender, which has been criticised. I think this is going to be a personal decision, but for me, the film took pains to be informative, to show the tough transition for Lara and usually, because of the people around her.

Her choices make it difficult because while her doctor advises her not to focus on her body during this part of the transition, more than anything that’s what dancers do and have to do. They are surrounded by mirrors and beautiful bodies all day long. Even though she is living in a time where transgender is more accepted, that doesn’t do diminish the deliberate daily cruelty by others.

This is not a world where the “other” is accepted. Why should transgender be different? As if it isn’t tough enough. But that’s who we are as a society and that won’t change soon.

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The Swedish documentary about housing with Lehani Farha.

Again stepping into a completely different world, Push is a Swedish-made documentary that is all about the world we live in today and harrowing is the best way to describe it. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

It follows Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, as she travels the globe, trying to understand who’s being pushed out of cities and why. What she discovers is how global finance is fuelling the worldwide housing crisis while making cities unaffordable to live in: “There’s a huge difference between housing as a commodity and gold as a commodity. Gold is not a human right, housing is.”

And that truly says it all. But what she finds is that the largest real estate equity firm in the world, Blackstone, is behind many of the disastrous housing projects she is investigating. “It’s like a world where you are fishing for fools,” is how the dilemma of taking advantage of the powerless is described by a participant.

What has happened in this past decade is that housing, especially for the poor, has been viewed as a commodity rather than a home. Sweden, for example, which has always been viewed as having housing systems to be proud of, falls in the same trap because someone is making money. Sound familiar? It’s not that one wants to wallow in someone else’s misery, but it does help to understand what is happening in the rest of the world. We’re not the only citizens who found ourselves living in a fool’s paradise. Check it out, it’s compulsive viewing.

These five above are the only ones I have personally watched but there are quite a few I will be adding to my viewing list:

Young and old women are the heroes, villains and victims in The Vice of Hope

*Les Misérables, which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 and then picked up Best International Feature Film at the Durban International Film Festival in July, is inspired by the Paris riots of 2005. Witnessed first-hand by director Ladj Ly, the film revolves around three members of an anti-crime brigade who are overrun while trying to make an arrest.  It has been selected as the French entry for the Best Foreign Film for the 2020 Oscars.

*Set against a housing crisis in Dublin, the Irish film Rosie is a riveting account of a remarkable woman trying to protect her loved ones and maintain their dignity when they lose their home.

*Women are the heroes, villains and victims in The Vice of Hope, a social drama about poverty, African immigration, human trafficking and the surrogacy business in towns around Naples (Italy).

*One would be silly to miss Oscar-winner Pedro Almodóvar’s 21st film described as his best in years. Pain and Glory won two awards at Cannes 2019 and features two of his favourite stars -Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz – in this semi-autobiographical narrative that tells of a series of re-encounters experienced by a film director in physical decline, and his need to recover meaning and hope. Pain and Glory is Spain’s entry for next year’s Academy Awards.

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Keira Knightly in Official Secrets.  Picture: Nick Wall

*The UK’s participant in this year’s festival is Official Secrets, directed by South African Gavin Hood, who won an Oscar with Tsotsi  in 2005. Based on true events, Official Secrets tells the story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley), a British intelligence specialist who leaks a memo in which the US enlists Britain’s help in collecting compromising information on United Nations Security Council members in order to blackmail them into voting in favour of an invasion of Iraq.

See http://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/ for detailed synopses, trailers and links to the screening schedule and ticket bookings.

Filmmaker Adam Heyns tells a Personal Story in Short Film; Exorcist of Apartheid

adam's posterWhat does a young man do when he loses his grandfather at the age of five and more than two decades later, still doesn’t know who this man, who has one of the main arteries in the capital city named after him, was. DIANE DE BEER speaks to filmmaker Adam Heyns about the short film tribute to his grandfather, moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church, Dr Johan Heyns:


Adam Heyns was five years old and living in Germany with his parents when they heard about his grandfather’s assassination. “I can’t remember much,” he says, but he does recall a sombre atmosphere in the car (they were on a road trip for the weekend) because his father Prof Christof Heyns, had heard about his father’s death on German radio.

The young filmmaker remembers a friendly black man at his aunt’s home when they returned home for the funeral, called Nelson Mandela. He also remembers realising, as he stood at the grave, the permanence of death. “I understood that I would never see him again.”

Adam Heyns at his grandfather's grave
Adam Heyns at his grandfather’s grave.

When he started with filmmaking it was a desire to tackle something more authentic than fiction and adverts, which started him enquiring about his family history. “I knew my grandfather was a well-known man, but I didn’t know much else about him,” he explains.

When his grandmother (one of the producers on the doccie) gave him a box of VHS cassettes, it was like meeting him for the first time. Here was someone who could take a moral point of view during very troubled times in our country’s history, he learnt. “Today I battle to establish a moral compass for myself and I often think he could have advised me. Fortunately, I got to know him better with the making of the film.”

Once you watch the doccie, you’re struck by the approach, the brevity as well as the story that emerges – a homage from a young man to his grandfather as he, together with us, gets to know what must have been a remarkable man in a difficult time and place.

“At one stage I almost stopped with production because there were so many directions and options. It just felt overwhelming,” says Heyns Jr. A speech his grandfather made on December 16 1988 at the Voortrekker Monument on what was then known as Geloftedag (Day of the Covenance – a holy day for Afrikaners) became the backbone of the film.

Adam's grandfather Dr Johan Heyns
Adam’s grandfather Dr Johan Heyns

On the day, his sermon from the Book of Amos deals with God’s harsh words to the Israelites about their immoral lifestyle. He compares this with that of the Afrikaners in the late ‘80s. “I was struck by his use of the Bible to encourage Afrikaners to rethink their mythology,” says his grandson.

But he was still worried about the edit until a filmmaker friend, Willem van den Heever, had a look and brought a new perspective.

Adam's opening and concluding clip

It starts with Adam walking into a room and putting a VHS cassette into a TV – and then watching with his audience his personal take on his grandfather’s life – yet another of those remarkable South African stories.

This was a man, the leader/moderator at that time of the main Afrikaans church, the Dutch Reformed Church, who had a complete change of heart about the political system in his country established by his people. He understood as he grappled with what he was experiencing that what would have to be reconciled were white fear and black aspiration. A wise man then , he would have had the same impact today, which is why this is such an important moment in time.

Titled Dr. John Heyns: Exorcist of Apartheid, the poster tagline reads: A young white filmmaker in South Africa asks what his grandfather did during apartheid. His grandmother gives him a box of family videos.

It is beautifully crafted weaving between family reels with the grandfather and his grandchildren at play, the momentous sermon at the Voortrekker Monument, television interviews with Dr Heyns about his beliefs and his change of heart and that fatal day and his assassination in front of some of his grandchildren and his wife as well as the shockwaves experienced in the country in the face of the brutality of this dastardly deed.

Adam Heyns on setSharing his grandfather’s names, and honouring the man he has discovered in the making of this very personal film, Heyns Jr used his full names in the final credit as homage: Johan Adam Heyns (JR) (left).

It will be screened on October 6 at The Bioscope Independent Cinema in Maboneng starting at 12.30pm.

It is part of the Jozi Film Festival which began in 2012 and was initially created to provide a platform for local filmmakers and reach audiences under serviced by traditional cinemas. The festival began accepting entries from around the world in 2014 and is now firmly established as one of the sub-continent’s leading film festivals. They are proudly independent, and a supporter of independent films. They also support and showcase both upcoming talent and veteran filmmakers.

For more info check https://www.jozifilmfestival.com/schedule.html for the festival which runs from October 3 to 6 in Jozi.

Make Time for the Lives of Others: It Alternatively Shakes and Makes the World a Better Place for Everyone

A heartbreaking scene from Capernaum

When filmmakers take issues of the day and shine a glaring light on them – smartly – it can shake your world in the best possible sense. DIANE DE BEER highlights two of the best:

Living in South Africa, we all know what it means to read about something and the horror of living it. For too long we lived in a country where it was a matter of law to keep things separate and in the dark. Evil needs to be shouted from the mountain tops.

Two films (one currently on circuit) currently making the rounds in cinemas and available out there to stream, tell stories that are as close to living it as is possible on screen.

Nadine Labaki, the writer,director and actor.

The first is Capernaum, a film by Nadine Labaki, a Lebanese filmmaker whose previous two movies (Caramel, Where Do We Go Now?) were screened locally with this one, Oscar nominated, currently on circuit.

She truly believes in the power of cinema and her latest, Capernaum, which in this context means chaos, deals with refugees, people who are stateless and as she says, “become invisible.”

The story she picked to tell was specifically that of the children trapped in these lives.  “We’re talking about children not receiving their fundamental rights,” is how she describes it in an interview.

With a script in hand, she started to look for the actors and smartly turned to the very people whose stories she wanted to tell. And then she listened to their lives and adapted her screenplay to reflect their reality.

Capernaum Poster

Most important in this equation is Syrian refugee child actor Zain Al Rafeea as Zain El Hajj, a 12-year- old living in the slums of Beirut. In yet another interview the director explained that in real life he is that age, but because of their lives, the children are all smaller because of malnutrition. (He and his family have since moved to Sweden where he is going to school for the first time.)

It’s a world of pain but those living there are simply trying to survive. When landing up in prison simply because he’s fighting for others in his life, a 12-year-old boy sues his parents for neglect. “Being born,” is how he says it.

If you want to see what survival looks like, this is it. It is done with compassion but without shying away from the harsh realities that many people – in this instance children – find themselves in. The number of refugees in the world at this specific time is horrifying with many countries and world leaders fighting to keep them from safety – that is, their countries.

The film reflects the lives of the children who had to flee Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Venezuela, Honduras, and the list goes on and keeps expanding daily.

“I need proof you’re a human being?” A sentence that might not be familiar to any of us, but in this world you need papers to say who you are and where you belong. Without them, as the director says, you become invisible.

And when one child is left caring for another because the mother has gone missing, your heart breaks. Even towards the young in that harshest of worlds, having nothing isn’t enough to change anything. Survival means exactly that, a drop of water, a crust of bread and no one to turn to because everyone is hustling – some more cunningly than others.

The ingenuity of children who have to look after themselves is astonishing. A car-wash, for example, will clean both bodies and clothes. When feeding a baby ice because there’s nothing else, he says: “Seriously, isn’t this better than a shawarma  sandwich?” And your heart shatters as it should because we all need to understand the lives of others.

And the parents? Can you judge them? Have you walked in their shoes? They believe that more children is their way out.

But when one child dies, another is born and the young son tells his mother, “My heart aches”.

This 12-year-old is tired of those who can’t care for their children. “That kid in your belly will be just like me,” he tells his mother.

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Reinaldo Marcus Green, director of Monsters and Men

In a similar vein, Monsters and Men deals with the scourge of African American men dying at the hands of police, publicly and visibly, yet nothing happens to change the situation. We from afar watch in horror.

But here are some answers as the movie follows the rise of tensions in the neighbourhood and how it affects the bystanders, one of whom filmed the scene as it unfolds – something that often happens.

It is the dilemma of the innocent, how to react and what to do. How to be a man when you’re living among monsters. That’s the story director Reinaldo Marcus Green tells with such honesty and clarity. There’s no way you don’t get this one.

When a black policeman asks his white female colleague how often she has been stopped that year, her response is that she drives too well not understanding the nuanced question. “I have been stopped six times,” he says, “and it’s only June.” That sentence captures his life and that of every black man living in America (and of course elsewhere). Skin has always mattered, no matter where you live – even in Africa.

But how does he go about his life and building a career when his chosen calling is policing in a force where he is regarded as the monster. To share his insights on the officer who was fast to draw his gun, means the end of his career, his livelihood and his “normal” family life that we all expect when we live in a certain way. But not here.

Monsters And Men DVD Cover

The young man who captures the event on his phone finds himself compelled to send it and his life turns into the nightmare he knew it would.

And then there’s the young sport star on the verge of making the big league – a new life not only for himself but also for his long-suffering father. How are you expected to make these life decisions about doing the right thing in a world that won’t take even your best word? Not even being caught on camera will seal the fate of those who go around terrorising African American men because they can.

What both these films do so majestically yet with illuminating simplicity is take you for a walk in the other’s shoes.

These stories need to be told and to be seen so that we all understand how the world works and what is at stake with every choice we make.


Choices Choices Choices: Entertainment In Style – Out On The Town Or At Home

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Cinema in style at Cine Prestige The Grove

There’s a world of entertainment out there for you to tap into whatever your interests. DIANE DE BEER explores some of the options and the way it stretches your mind:



If your movie-going days seem to have dwindled, The Grove Ster-Kinekor recently launched its revamped Cine Prestige theatre with a screening of action thriller John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum – and all of Cine Prestige’s signature comfort.

If you are one of those people who are reluctant to leave the comfort of their home because cinemas have become rowdy places with cell phone interruptions and blinding screen lights that detract from the experience, then this might be a way to entice you back.

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Cocktails at Cine Prestige

It reminded me of business or first class flying with seats that move and change into comfortable sofas with you and your partner sweetly ensconced into your own private space.

The experience also includes a cosy private lounge, and a full bar offering with a range of drinks from wine, beer, cocktails, and hot drinks.

You are no longer reliant on popcorn and coke, although those are also available for those die-hard movie memories. Guests can also enjoy gourmet snack platters, and a selection of desserts, all served in the comfort of a fully reclining leather seat. It’s a great way of watching a movie.

All of this comes at a price, naturally (R161 a ticket without refreshments) but assuming you want to watch movies on a big screen in extreme comfort, this certainly is that.

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Fight or flight in John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

Personally, I realise that I’m not the target audience of the John Wick franchise which we were invited to see yet fortunately this was my first experience of this particular Keanu Reeves strongman, which meant there was an element of novelty involved.

But not for too long. These films are simply a series of flight and fight scenes in various guises, with little happening in-between.

Their next offering, Longshot, is a love story that tracks the life of a free-spirited journalist who keeps running into trouble. Played by Seth Rogen, Fred unexpectedly charms Charlotte (Charlize Theron), who is smart, sophisticated and sassy. The combo of the silly and the serious should be fun and our girl is always someone to watch.

This will be followed by Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which won’t be diarised, and Rocket Man, which is described as an epic musical fantasy which makes sense if you’re told it is based on the unfiltered story of Elton John’s breakthrough years. It nevertheless is not an unauthorised version, Sir Elton was a big part of the process.

Cine Prestige, it seems, is about a fun experience rather than movies that might seriously engage your mind, but we need these escapist adventures as well. And seeing the whole adventure as a bit of a fantasy, the movie itself might just as well fall in that genre too.

But while on the subject of entertainment and keeping up with the latest out there in a way that’s easy – and perhaps not putting you out of pocket, I was recently watching a Christiane Amanpour programme on CNN. This is one of the few that cover politics but also the arts with authors, filmmakers, directors and the like all making an appearance. (Check it out on CNN, currently at 7pm on weeknights and again repeated at 5am in the morning. She keeps you in touch.)

But this particular segment featured two extraordinary women who are both tasked with introducing us to a new world fast emerging out there.

Radhika Jones
Radhika Jones

The first was Radhika Jones, the first mixed race editor of the pop culture magazine Vanity Fair, which immediately impacts their cover and story choices to reflect the world we live in – all of it – not just from a certain vantage. She makes some brave decisions for the future of the magazine, and this is where you get to play around for a while. She recently opened up the Vanity Fair archives, free of charge for now.

Vanity Fair archive
From the Vanity Fair archives

That means you can sit endlessly scrolling through issues from the beginning of time depending on your interest. Vanity Fair has always been a magazine that homes in on the zeitgeist which is what makes it of interest internationally.

As Jones explained to Amanpour, her cover choices weren’t really the result of who she is but rather of what is happening in the world around us, with the success for example of Black Panther and Get Out and she wants to capture the spirit of the times. To allow readers into this world through the archives is a treat. Go and have a look. Just make sure that you are in the archives, not the magazine itself which is limited to four articles a month, of Vanity Fair and then have fun with your reading choices.


And on that note, if you have a Netflix account, don’t miss the Rachel Lears documentary Knock Down The House. It looks at the primary campaigns of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin, four Democrats endorsed by Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress (the names say it all) who ran for Congress in last year’s US midterm elections.

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The four women competing in the Midterm Elections

It premiered at Sundance 2019 in January, was voted an audience favourite and was bought by Netflix for the most money ever paid for a documentary.

These women were running together on a grassroots level and what the filmmaker wanted to explore was power now and what it looked like, how representatives and money converge and what happens when people who don’t have the money, are brought into the process. Because of the large amounts of money required to run, usually only certain kinds of people can access the process, but this is changing with Ocasio-Cortez and her particular brand (and charisma)  turned into hot currency with the current crop of Democratic Presidential hopefuls whenever they have a stage.

She was the only one elected and has already challenged the status quo in a country where a largely white male Alabama senate recently passed the most restrictive abortion bill in the US deciding about the rights of women and their bodies, “the only thing men cannot control,” argues Gloria Steinem.

All of the above are “entertainment” options in our new world of access, streaming and many other avenues that keep popping up.

It’s time to play and stretch the mind – and that’s the best way.

A Fight for the Soul of a Cape Flats Family



Jarrid Geduld as Abie
Time out – Jarrid Geduld as Abie



(Afrikaans with English subtitles)

DIRECTOR: Daryne Joshua

SCRIPT: Amy Jephta

CAST: Jill Levenberg, Jarrid Geduld, Elton Landrew, Kay Smith

When Requiem for a Dream was released in 2000, it established a benchmark for movies dealing with addiction. But what has changed in the meantime is the way addiction manifests in specific communities.

Currently in the US they are battling the worst opioid addiction in their history, but back home specifically amongst the coloured community on the Cape Flats (and elsewhere) it is the scourge of tik that holds communities hostage. Theirs is a very particular and personal story because of the past, the history of where they come from and where they find themselves and the never-ending cycle of hardship with those in trouble ripe for the picking.

The Ellen Pakkies story is a familiar one and many will know the bare facts of the mother who in desperation strangled her tik-addicted son. But what Jephta and Joshua have achieved is to disembowel this family tragedy in all its horror. Set in Lavender Hill where it all happened with the community part of the story, Pakkies was involved with the script and stripped her soul to unravel the story of a son unable to deal with the tragedy of his life and then turning to drugs and away from the father and mother who would have given their lives to keep him safe.

Instead, they are the people he turns on, that’s what addiction does, and the people involved, both the user and those around the addict, are not equipped to deal with the fallout of their lives. In this instance, a mother’s past impacts on decisions made in the future and in turn infiltrates a family’s way of dealing with life. When tough issues surface, no one sees their lives spiraling out of control because the fall is fast and before they know it, lives are completely out of control and so often lost.

Pakkies parents in distress
Pakkies parents in distress – Jill Levenberg as Ellen and Elton Landrew as Odneal.

Pakkies knew how to battle the world. She had a battered childhood and was used to fighting her way out of trouble. But this time she would need help, and this is really the dilemma of these communities who are overwhelmed by drugs and the culture that comes with it. Just this week the police again released murder statistics and the highest are gang-related.

With these devastating numbers prevalent on the Cape Flats, the individual families dealing with the addicts have nowhere to turn. The system is inadequate, and they are left to their own devices which is how they got into trouble in the first place. The well has run dry.

But when disaster strikes, people turn on those who aren’t able to cope. That’s the story that is being told and that plays out in these communities’ time and again with no hope of change. What empowers the Pakkies story is the script, the clear direction and dramatic performances from the three main characters that tear at your heart. Levenberg’s Ellen and Geduld’s Abie, the out-of-control son, were awarded best actress and actor prizes at the recent Silwerskerm Fees as a result.

Jarrid Geduld as Abie1
No way out – Jarrid Geduld as Abie

It is their crystallising vision and sensibility that add texture to the work. Watching Abie turn from a promising scholar with a future to someone whose every breath is focussed on the drug that feeds his life, is traumatising. From a loving teenager he turns into something rather than someone as the drug dehumanises every move he takes to ensure a continued fix from day to day. We all know the devastating effects but to watch it happening in front of your eyes is harsh and the only way to deal with that reality.

Levenberg’s Ellen is a tiger mom who goes on the prowl to defend her son. She is determined to fight for his soul but while she and husband Odneal (Landrew in another heartfelt delivery), are in the fight for their son’s life, the outside world turns its back. Turning their home into a prison to keep their son out, having lost most of their possessions, their nights turn into terror as the drug makes their son a thug who devastates them to feed his habit.

Ellen, die Ellen Pakkies Storie is not easy to watch especially because we think we are familiar with the reality of what is happening around this addiction, but with a smart script and direction, Levenberg, Geduld and Landrew tell their story of pain with a poignancy and punch that forces audiences to engage.

Unique Stories Told With Exuberance Delightfully Dominate 2018 Oscars


The big thing about this year’s Oscar movies is their individuality – the way they have taken sometimes obvious themes and done something quite unique and extraordinary with them.


When I first saw an interview with director/writer Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell on the now disgraced Charlie Rose show, I knew this gloriously named movie, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was going to be a movie to watch.

South Africans who haven’t caught a streamed version yet, will have the chance to see it now and glory in everything this movie manages to capture – from innovation to creativity to acting excellence. It’s something to revel in.

Take McDormand in two of her biggest roles, Fargo and Olive Kitteridge, two completely different women both perfectly portrayed by this amazing actress who just gets the idiosyncrasies of her characters. And she does it again with this fierce and forceful woman who is not going to stand on the side-lines while the bumbling police force try and catch her daughter’s rapist-killer.

It’s her little girl and she will get her day in court, it’s the only way she knows how to deal with her grief. It’s the time for women and this film is feverishly pitched even though it came into being before the Weinstein fiasco exploded like a tsunami around the world.

Bolster McDormand’s performance with that of Sam Rockwell, Woody Harreslon and Caleb Landry Jones as well as a full cast of delicious minor characters and you’ve hit pay dirt.

McDonagh has already proved he is someone special and once again he shows that he tells unusual stories in unexpected fashion completely in touch with the zeitgeist. How could you not truimph with this story and these actors? It’s almost a no-brainer and fortunately worked out that way. The uniquely voiced McDonagh knows how to pull it all together magnificently.

That’s true about a whole clutch of movies marching to the Oscars with loud and amazing fanfare this year.

Such a pity that Sally Hawkins is matched with McDormand this particular year. Guillermo del Toro has created a fantastically fey female for this appealing actress with eyes that speak volumes – and they have to in this one. What perfect casting!

It’s also a perfect match teamed as she is with Octavia Spencer, the fiery protector of her whimsical colleague. This all plays out in a setting that the visionary director has masterfully carved out in colours that slip out of a storybook.

It has a monster, magic and a musical sequence that truly sings as does most of the movie in memory mode á la Del Torro who is finally receiving the credit he is supposed to. If you want to be transported into another world and time far away and beyond, don’t miss The Shape of Water.

Get Out

Paying tribute to horror movies but with a specific message in mind, Jordan Peele’s Get Out cleverly and with cunning finds a way to get the masses going to the movies for a sharp critique on racism. They did this without broadcasting it – and once they’re in the cinemas, it’s too late to get out!

It’s masterful with a great performance by the latest young, black lead Daniel Kaluuya (he with the eyes to match those of Hawkins). He innocently marches into a swamp of whiteness that has found its own methods to completely enslave those who are unwilling. It’s smart stuff as it plays with a world in denial even when confronted with #BlackLivesMatter.

Lady Bird

And while I didn’t think Lady Bird has quite the smarts that Juno had a few years back – it plays it a little safer –  it has opened the door for the well-deserved Greta Gerwig. She should approach it more boldly the next time now that she has been given the keys.

This is a homage to her hometown and a time viewed with nostalgia. Kudos to Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf who know how to tell the story of the wilful daughter and determined mother who attempt to allay each other’s fears of stepping into new lives.

I, Tonia is another unexpected take as you are invited to recall the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan tale of competitive ice skating gone terribly wrong. Instead you’re confronted with a story of class and how certain people are not allowed through the door when they live on the wrong side of the track.

Not only was Harding the first woman to complete a triple axel in competition (something we understand now with the Winter Olympics in full swing), she was also a skater with individual flair precisely because she didn’t have all the normal accoutrements so part of this icy world. Figure skating was not meant to be for this young girl, it didn’t matter how good she was.

Margot Robbie as Tanya Harding and Allison Janney as her chilling mother have both received Oscar nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, which are well deserved. It is the way they tell the story of the two people who most ruffle the feathers of those who reign supreme in the ice rink.

These are but a few of the best examples of how movies compete with what is currently out there. At no time previously has the scope of those watching been this extravagant and exuberant and if you want to find an audience in today’s noisy entertainment space, it had better have a strong hook.

Stories still matter and the way they are told is what has the most impact and will find an audience. Check these out whether they’re Oscar winners or not.

  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri opens at Ster Kinekor today while I, Tonya, Shape of Water and Lady Bird are all still playing in their cinemas.

Why Marvel’s Long Awaited Black Panther Is A Movement

Kgomotso Moncho-Maripane

(Guest Writer)


Okoye (Danai Gurira), the General of the Dora Milaje, the all female army of Wakanda, who are personal protectors of the Black Panther. ©Marvel Studios 2018

My black people and I had been eagerly waiting for February 16, 2018 since the trailer for Marvel’s Black Panther and the date for its world premiere were released last year. I’d even prayed that I don’t die before then, that’s how epic this film is to us.

Since then Black twitter had been planning their African futuristic outfits for the premiere and went as far as to warn that we would be loud in the cinemas.

South Africans especially would not be able to contain their excitement due to the presence of local hero, Dr John Kani, his son Atandwa and fellow local actress, Connie Chiume in this blockbuster film.

Kani is responsible for isiXhosa being adopted as the official language of Wakanda, the fictional home of the Black Panther and a country in Africa. Adding to the nostalgic, novel delight is seeing the Basotho blanket of neighbouring Lesotho forming part of the vibrant costumes which also draw from Zulu and Maasai traditional wear.

And then there’s the inclusion of South African artists such as Babes Wodumo; Yugen Blakrok and Sjava in the Black Panther soundtrack, produced by rapper Kendrick Lamar.

Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba) with the Dora Milaje, the all female army of Wakanda. ©Marvel Studios 2018

One of the main things that Black Panther gets right is the representation of Africa in an authentic way and it’s clear how South Africa had a hand in making that possible. Where a Hollywood film like Coming To America failed in its stereotypical view of the continent that perpetuates the ignorance and the single story of Africa, Black Panther makes up for in its research and consultation. It thus captures subtle nuances without trying too hard and imagines a futuristic African country that is not far-fetched.

Wakanda is a self-reliant, technologically advanced African country that has not been colonized and if you consider the iron mining technologies of Southern Africa’s Iron Age in Mapungubwe, this may not be so hard to imagine.

Kani, who’s been the African mouthpiece for the film leading up to its worldwide release, captures beautifully the impact of the vision of this film below:

“The movie is going to deal with the myth that if the white colonialist did not land in Africa, we’d still be walking in skins with spears chasing each other. It’ll prove we built the pyramids in Egypt….that the Zimbabwe ruins were built by us and that the cradle of human kind is in Southern Africa. So this is one time where African people are shown at their fullest potential – where they’re able to travel to space and back with incredible technology. So for us, there’s a bit of seriousness about this movie.”

And even though in reality there’s no way Africans can go back to a pre-colonial state as Frantz Fanon said, Wakanda represents the Africa of the future and of our dreams.

There’s a global shift that is happening right now spearheaded by creatives that addresses issues of representation, looking at the black experience and how it’s portrayed; to stories of marginalized communities such as the LGBTIQ. This movement can be seen in brilliant films such as Jordan Peele’s Get Out; Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight and a series like Oprah and Ava Duvernay’s Queen Sugar.

Locally there’s the powerful film, Inxeba; the indigenous language plays that the Market Theatre commissions and the black casts we’re starting to see more of in musicals, telling black stories like The Color Purple on right now at the Joburg Theatre and Tsotsi the Musical.

T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).©Marvel Studios 2018

Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther fits into this movement because it’s about a black superhero. That’s a big deal to any black person, hence this huge excitement globally. There’s so much joy, fulfillment and validation that comes with seeing yourself represented. And this speaks to the power in being seen.

That the Black Panther is black American has helped build a bridge between African Americans and Africans in the continent and the diaspora that brings us closer on a spiritual level. Kendrick Lamar’s seminal album, To Pimp a Butterfly – which made him a voice of a generation due to how lyrically he encapsulates the black American experience – was inspired by his South African tour.

Lamar said that being in South Africa made him realize how black Americans don’t aspire to Africa when being here gave him his “I made it” moment and more. In the film the battle between Black Panther and the villain, Killmonger, plays to that dynamic where it is in fact black America that needs Africa and not the other way round.

It’s a powerful idea that connects us and it’s perhaps no coincidence that Black Panther premiered in Black History Month.

Art has the power to change perceptions. In this case it is perhaps Hollywood’s own perception of Africa that needed to be altered. Black Panther is not just a movie, it’s a cultural, political moment.

I’m going to see it again and a few more times.

  • Black Panther is showing at Ster Kinekor cinemas.







One Thing You have to Know: This is not the last Jedi…

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Rey (Daisy Ridley).

Pictures: Lucasfilm Ltd.




DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson

CAST: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran


RUNNING TIME: 2 hrs 32 minutes


I am not your target audience for Star Wars, in fact, it even surprised me when I enjoyed the last one as much as I did. This time round, I was determined to see it in the best way possible and decided to opt for IMAX.

That’s a good move. If you’re not your average junkie, but interested in  the franchise, pay the money and see it on that gigantic screen. It engulfs you and with this kind of running time, that’s what you need. It will cost you with 3D glasses, tickets and the obligatory popcorn and coke but it’s worth the money – on occasion.

Cinemas are losing their appeal as the best option to catch the latest Hollywood has to offer. Competing with everything that moves and expected to pull out the stops, that’s not always the case. There’s no accounting for audiences.

And those on cellphones who decide to catch up with all the news while watching a movie are always going to be around. As are kids in movies that aren’t going to hold their attention. Fortunately the overwhelming sound experience of the IMAX helps to obliterate some of the human irritation always around in crowds.

Right from the start as the predictable script starts running as if right in front of you as is the IMAX sensation, you know that director Johnson, a newbie, has safe hands and heart.

But what really drives the story is the cast: from Carrie Fisher’s appropriately grand final farewell in a movie that brought her worldwide fame and honoured her right to the last quite magnificently, to Mark Hamil’s prominent performance paying homage to the beginnings of the series to the young rebel crew with Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran and Oscar Isaac bravely and buoyantly carrying the light sabers and manipulating those frisky air machines.

Unflappable Pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)

They are the ones who held my attention, especially Isaac, an actor who is perhaps much more comfy in his Hamlet persona than a gung-ho pilot who knows he can safeguard anything, but also Ridley and Boyega fulfill the promise engendered in the previous Star Wars episode.

John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran
Diversity dazzles: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran

Diversity, almost by-the-way as it should be, plays a huge role, with black, white, Chinese all strengthening the rebel force. If that’s what  the new generation brings in our divided and fearful world, that’s a huge plus. I know it’s just a movie, but it is one that exerts huge influence and pulls diverse crowds – if it can do some social engineering among the audience along the way, that can only be a plus. Strength in numbers is always how to battle a world that refuses to see the obvious.

Star War fanatics are at odds about the humour introduced in this one with Minion-type creatures chirping their way throughout the story, slightly at odds with the rest of the film, but more worrying is the time they feel they need to fill to get this story across. It means repetitive fight scenes and diminishes the drama that is part of the franchise.

It’s just way too long – even with these kinds of special effects. and even on the big screen.

But was it a complete waste of time? Absolutely not. It’s the kind of movie I want to see on IMAX and it’s an end-of-year kind of film. You don’t want to be miserly and be too nasty. It’s not that kind of movie. It’s Star Wars after all and we know what to expect.  This is a new director with a cast that delivers brilliantly. Yes the special effects and the many machines are magnificent, but the actors really save the franchise.

When I still want to go out to the movies – apart from the NT Live (theatre and art) and Opera series which is a no-brainer and will always have my patronage – this is the kind of spectacle which shimmers in this kind of setting.

Humanity the winner in Dunkirk

By Diane de Beer

dunkirk3 (002)


DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
CAST: Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes


Recently watched Cries from Syria on the Sundance TV channel on DStv (still available) followed by Dunkirk on IMAX (best way to see it) and I was struck how all these years later, the war – whatever shape it takes – remains the same.

If only it was shoot and kill, at least you would be gone and the suffering would be over. It’s not that easy. And as to be expected, it is usually the innocent, those who didn’t want this or see it coming, that pay the highest price.

The Syrian story, still ongoing and getting worse after five years and counting with the Syrian leader whose appalling regime started all this, going even stronger albeit without a livable country and less than half its people, tells the horror.

In Cries of Syria, a young boy (perhaps 8 years old) reaches what he thinks is a place of safety after he has fled his country following years of hardship and fear of dying, crossed the seas with a 50 percent chance of drowning, and stayed in a kind of clearance camp before moving further on foot to find refuge.

He finally reaches what he thinks is perhaps a haven only to find what he describes as the following: “They threw bread at us as if we are dogs!” Eight years old and at the end of a journey crossing half the world to find somewhere safe – and that is what he finds?

All this while the world is watching and talking about the refugee crisis. These are real people being affected – on a daily basis. Not even a toddler’s body discarded by the sea on a beach make a difference.

Perhaps then it is easier to look back at a Dunkirk with the focus on individual stories but also heroism as people go to the rescue of their countrymen in the face of great personal danger.

It was an extraordinary time and because of that, the director wanted to hone in on what it was like to be there. It’s not about huge fighting scenes or masses of people (all 400 000 of them) waiting to die, gathering on a beach with nowhere to go.

He didn’t want to make use of CGI or as little as possible. He wanted it to be up close and personal so that you could experience not the bravado of wars but the intensity, the fight for survival and life. Similarly to that young boy waiting to be fed after years of battling simply to survive.

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Fionn Whitehead personifies the struggle for survival

He does have the big names but someone like Tom Hardy playing a fighter pilot for example sets off in a plane at the start of the film and then disappears off the screen until right at the end. Kenneth Branagh as the commander, Mark Rylance as the brave boat owner who takes off for Dunkirk to save as many soldiers as he can with the unknown Fionn Whitehead as the young soldier battling for his life, are the few faces we get to see more of.

Yet Dunkirk is not about the actors, who in fact get very little time to speak. It’s about the stories, the way war works, the savagery of thinking you have survived only to be tumbled into yet another crisis which has to be overcome.

Nolan has made many films, most of them in different genres, and he knows what he’s doing whether you’re a fan or not. With this one he set out to tell a very particular story and probably we take from it where we come from and who we are.

We live in a world with not only vicious wars being waged but nuclear battles being threatened by two power-drunk men. This is when we have to ponder the results achieved of those fighting their battles in this way.

Those young men on the beaches didn’t ask to be there at that particular time and whether they fought well or valiantly didn’t define their lives. For each one of them it was probably about getting out at the end – some do and others don’t.

So when given a choice, we shouldn’t turn our heads, we should talk rather than feed that war machine that rules the world in so many ways.

Dunkirk confirms that message in many different ways.

PS: Saw Hokusai, a documentary  of the British Museum exhibition, Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave at Brooklyn Cinema Nouveau, which my sister had just been to see at the British Museum.

Filmed in Japan, the US and the UK, Hokusai focuses on the work, life and times of Katsushika Hokusai, painter and printmaker of the Edo (Modern Tokyo) period. Hokusai is regarded Japan’s greatest artist, who influenced Monet, Van Gogh and other Impressionists.

It was amazing and the cinema quite empty (which isn’t always the case when the artist names are perhaps more familiar) But again I was reminded of this extraordinary privilege we have with these screenings on artists and their current exhibitions.

Similarly for the NT Live theatre productions which allow us to see the latest work at London’s National Theatre or the Young and Old Vic, the Donmar and others.

Check it out. And watch those screening times. These are short runs but all worth seeing. It is as close as you will come this far away to see people like Helen Mirren and Judy Dench on stage while the play is still running in London.

The next screenings to watch out for later this month in Cinema Nouveau around the country is Renoir – Revered and Reviled from August 26; and the theatre productions of  Angels in America Part 1 (starting August 19) and Angels in America Part 2 (starting on September 2).