SILENT LAND IS A FILM THAT SPEAKS VOLUMES IN ITS HAUNTING SILENCES

Each year, The European Film Festival is one of the movie highlights of the year – and this time is no different running between October 13 and 23. Here is a short review by DIANE DE BEER on one of the films:

SILENT LAND

POLAND

Director: Agnieszka Woszczyńska

Cast: Dobromir Dymecki, Agnieszka Żulewska, Jean Marc Barr, Alma Jodorowsky, Marcello Romolo

Genre: Drama

Time: 113 minutes

Polish, English, French, Italian with English subtitles – 2021

Everything about this film screams art movie in the best sense of the word. It’s the setting up of the story, the young couple playing the leads, the pace or sometimes lack thereof as well as the unfolding and slightly mysterious tone of film that adds to the quality of the viewing.

I was reminded throughout of European movies seen in the past presenting a similar atmosphere and handling of character and content. There’s no spoon feeding and the substance is serious yet accessible.

Director Agnieszka Woszczyńska says it best: ‘Silent Land is not only about the collapse of a relationship, but also about the collapse of the value system in the modern world, the general indifference to reality, and social lethargy. Ultimately, it is a tale about alienation, not only from each other, but also from the world. It’s about conformity and passivity, where the need for safety and convenience is a strategy for survival.’

This is a fantastic opportunity to catch up on many of the best movies from Europe of the past year. For details on all the films and how to watch visit www.eurofilmfest.co.za

PLAYGROUND SHINES A LIGHT ON SCHOOL BULLYING WITH A STORY THAT FEATURES ACTING BRILLIANCE

Each year, The European Film Festival is one of the movie highlights of the year – and this time is no different running between October 13 and 23. Here is a short review by DIANE DE BEER on one of the films:

PLAYGROUND

BELGIUM

Director: Laura Wandel

Cast: Maya Vanderbeque, Günter Duret, Lena Girard Voss, Karim Leklou, Laura Verlinden

Genre: Drama Time: 72 minutes

French with English subtitles – 2021

Even if you were never bullied in school, all of us have been witness to something like that in our lives. Take Donald Trump for example, his whole existence is thanks to bullying, not an easy thing to watch even from afar.

But the title of this one says it all, and again, it is the way the young people deal with what is given to them that is captured so brilliantly.

We all know and understand the impact of abuse during your younger years, on the rest of your life. When seven-year-old Nora witnesses the bullying her older brother Abel has to endure at school, she rushes to help out. But he persuades her not to tell anyone.

She is still trying to adapt to school herself and this is something that she finds quite unbearable – that and the subtle bullying that is happening amongst her own circle of new acquaintances.

It’s a hugely emotional film with the camera rigged at Nora’s height so that we are really pulled into the centre of her storm.

It’s also the inability of doing the right thing on every level. The sensitive teacher isn’t always around at the right time, and when they are, the problem is much easier to deal with – and yet when away from the adults, is when the pressure comes into play.

This is a fantastic opportunity to catch up on many of the best movies from Europe of the past year. For details on all the films and how to watch visit www.eurofilmfest.co.za

PETITE MAMAN DELVES INTO THE HEARTACHE OF THE YOUNG WHEN THEY’RE DEALING WITH GRIEF

Each year, The European Film Festival is one of the movie highlights of the year – and this time is no different running between October 13 and 23. Here is a short review by DIANE DE BEER on one of the films:

PETITE MAMAN

 FRANCE

Director: Céline Sciamma

Cast: Gabrielle Sanz, Joséphine Sanz, Nina Meurisse, Margot Abascal, Stéphane Varupenne

Genre: Drama, Coming-of-age

Time: 72 minutes 

French with English subtitles – 2021

Children feature strongly in this haunting, beautifully told story about a child’s perception of loss. Nelly has lost her beloved grandmother and is helping her parents clear out her mother’s childhood home. She explores and discovers both the house and the surrounding woods where her mom, Marion, used to play and built a treehouse Nelly has often heard about.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, her mother leaves and that is when Nelly meets a girl her own age building her own treehouse and named Marion.

It’s a film that explores specifically the world of children, how they are affected by what is happening in the world around them, how adults deal with them and how they cope with feelings that are way beyond their tender years.

The two young actresses are superb and add another dimension to the film, which is tenderly made and sensitively unfolds.

It is not a children’s movie, but it is very much about their lives, they way they digest what is given to them by the adults who run their little lives and how they make sense of things they don’t understand.

This is a fantastic opportunity to catch up on many of the best movies from Europe of the past year. For details on all the films and how to watch visit www.eurofilmfest.co.za

OLGA IS A GRITTY FILM WITH BEATING HEART

Each year, The European Film Festival is one of the movie highlights of the year – and this time is no different running between October 13 and 23. Here is a short review by DIANE DE BEER on one of the films:

OLGA

(SWITZERLAND)

 Director: Elie Grappe

Cast: Nastya Budiashkina, Sabrina Rubtsova, Jérôme Martin

Genre: Drama, Coming of Age

Time: 85 minutes

French, Russian, Ukrainian with English subtitles – 2021

Anything that comes from Ukraine has added appeal because of its harrowing circumstances for almost a decade now, resulting in the most recent horrors inflicted by Putin.

But this is not a story about that, even though there are signs of things to come. What it does capture is how these catastrophic events impact the lives of children. What should have been relatively carefree times in their young lives are clouded by what is happening on the periphery.

Olga is a teenage gymnast living in exile in Switzerland where she dreams of Olympic gold as she battles to fit in with her new team.

Her mom, who is a journalist, is suffering the hardship of what that means with a sudden uprising in Kiev, the forerunner of what that brave country is facing right now.

Olga is heartbroken and scared, feeling she has deserted those she cares most about while fighting for her own freedom.

It is by no means a perfect movie, but it does have added impact because of the lives it captures almost in a bubble as we know now and with hindsight. It also throws a light on these young athletes and the pressures they face as we have recently been made much more aware of with gymnasts like Simone Biles and tennis star Naomi Osaka.

This is a fantastic opportunity to catch up on many of the best movies from Europe of the past year. For details on all the films and how to watch visit www.eurofilmfest.co.za

THE EUROPEAN FILM FESTIVAL IN SOUTH AFRICA GOES HYBRID AND OFFERS FANTASTIC OPTIONS

Each year, The European Film Festival is one of the movie highlights of the year – and this time is no different running between October 13 and 23. DIANE DE BEER picks a few to highlight and expands on everything available to watch – for free:

SMALL BODY

Festival co-director Magdalene Reddy explains that they will continue to cater for viewers and followers who have become accustomed to watching films at home, while also providing for those who long to return to the cinema.  

 “This is our transitional approach of coming back to theatres gradually,” she says – and I will hold thumbs that it stays this way especially for those of us not in cities where the screenings happen.

The online screenings are free while a ticket price will be charged for the theatre screenings.  Each film will have a single screening at both Ster-Kinekor’s The Zone in Johannesburg and at The Labia in Cape Town.

 Sixteen award-winning films, eight of them by women directors, will be screened. This year’s theme, Innocence and Beyond, explores innocence not just as a legal concept, but also as a human quality. This includes two stand-out perspectives through the eyes of children in Petite Maman and Playground (see reviews below) with fantastic performances by the young stars.

OLGA

There is no set age for when loss of innocence can occur and a number of films focus on youth as they navigate the often turbulent process of growing into adults. From the Netherlands, Shariff Korver’s slow-burning psychological thriller Do Not Hesitate depicts unprepared Dutch youths thrown into the crucible of war, while Swiss film Olga, by Elie Grappe, is a tense but sensitively handled tale of exile (see review below). The riveting women-driven film Small Body is an adventure story infused with a wonderful mythological sensibility that earned Laura Samani the best new director prize at Italy’s David d’Donatello awards.

AS FAR AS I CAN WALK

How much does innocence inform a young woman’s quest for love and meaning? This is the question in Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, a Norwegian/French/Danish/Swedish co-production that earned two Oscar nominations this year.  Stefan Arsenijević’s Serbian/French/Luxembourgian/Bulgarian/Lithuanian co-production As Far As I Can Walk highlights that it’s not just securing a roof over one’s head but also the challenges of emotional and intellectual deprivation that young migrants face today.

THE EMIGRANTS

 Is innocence solely about what’s right and what’s wrong?  Sometimes it’s about what we don’t do.  Silent Land, by Poland’s Aga Woszczyńska, is a case of what the protagonists didn’t do (see review), and Erik Poppe’s Swedish film The Emigrants is an epic period drama about a poverty-stricken family who emigrate to the United States in the 1800s, told from a woman’s perspective, in a  search for a second chance in life. From the Republic of Georgia, Levan Koguashvili’s comedic Brighton 4th is a portrait of parental sacrifice and the love of a father for his son that also shows the elusiveness of the American Dream.  

THE GOOD BOSS

 Ali and Ava, written and directed by one of the UK’s most distinctive cinematic voices, Clio Barnard, is about a couple from different cultural backgrounds beginning a relationship while The Good Boss, directed by Fernando León de Aranoa, is a satire about the indignities of working life, with Javier Bardem in the spotlight (see review).

Austrian Sebastian Meise’s Cannes-winner Great Freedom explores tenderness, love, lost time, and the tenacity of the human spirit while Portuguese director Catarina Vasconcelos’s unorthodox film The Metamorphosis of Birds sifts through the memories and dreams of her ancestors. The German film I’m Your Man by Maria Schrader is a spunky sci-fi dramedy that asks what humans want in relationships, and if AI beings should have rights.  

Finally, the world is again witnessing and affected by a terrible war, and innocence is an unfortunate casualty.  Director/screenwriter/editor Maryna Er Gorbach’s Ukrainian-set drama Klondike deals with the travails of parents-to-be living near the Russian border exposing the absurdity of war and how it affects those who aren’t directly involved.

This is a fantastic opportunity to catch up on many of the best movies from Europe of the past year. For details on all the films and how to watch visit www.eurofilmfest.co.za

OLGA

(SWITZERLAND)

 Director: Elie Grappe Cast: Nastya Budiashkina, Sabrina Rubtsova, Jérôme Martin Genre: Drama, Coming of Age Time: 85 minutes

French, Russian, Ukrainian with English subtitles – 2021

Anything that comes from Ukraine has added appeal because of its harrowing circumstances for almost a decade now, resulting in the most recent horrors inflicted by Putin.

But this is not a story about that, even though there are signs of things to come. What it does capture is how these catastrophic events impact the lives of children. What should have been relatively carefree times in their young lives are clouded by what is happening on the periphery.

Olga is a teenage gymnast living in exile in Switzerland where she dreams of Olympic gold as she battles to fit in with her new team.

Her mom, who is a journalist, is suffering the hardship of what that means with a sudden uprising in Kiev, the forerunner of what that brave country is facing right now.

Olga is heartbroken and scared, feeling she has deserted those she cares most about while fighting for her own freedom.

It is by no means a perfect movie, but it does have added impact because of the lives it captures almost in a bubble as we know now and with hindsight. It also throws a light on these young athletes and the pressures they face as we have recently been made much more aware of with gymnasts like Simone Biles and tennis star Naomi Osaka.

PETITE MAMAN

 FRANCE

Director: Céline Sciamma Cast: Gabrielle Sanz, Joséphine Sanz, Nina Meurisse, Margot Abascal, Stéphane Varupenne Genre: Drama, Coming-of-age Time: 72 minutes 

French with English subtitles – 2021

Children feature strongly in this haunting, beautifully told story about a child’s perception of loss. Nelly has lost her beloved grandmother and is helping her parents clear out her mother’s childhood home. She explores and discovers both the house and the surrounding woods where her mom, Marion, used to play and built a treehouse Nelly has often heard about.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, her mother leaves and that is when Nelly meets a girl her own age building her own treehouse and named Marion.

It’s a film that explores specifically the world of children, how they are affected by what is happening in the world around them, how adults deal with them and how they cope with feelings that are way beyond their tender years.

The two young actresses are superb and add another dimension to the film, which is tenderly made and sensitively unfolds.

It is not a children’s movie, but it is very much about their lives, they way they digest what is given to them by the adults who run their little lives and how they make sense of things they don’t understand.

PLAYGROUND

BELGIUM

Director: Laura Wandel Cast: Maya Vanderbeque, Günter Duret, Lena Girard Voss, Karim Leklou, Laura Verlinden Genre: Drama Time: 72 minutes

French with English subtitles – 2021

Even if you were never bullied in school, all of us have been witness to something like that in our lives. Take Donald Trump for example, his whole existence is thanks to bullying, not an easy thing to watch even from afar.

But the title of this one says it all, and again, it is the way the young people deal with what is given to them that is captured so brilliantly.

We all know and understand the impact of abuse during your younger years, on the rest of your life. When seven-year-old Nora witnesses the bullying her older brother Abel has to endure at school, she rushes to help out. But he persuades her not to tell anyone.

She is still trying to adapt to school herself and this is something that she finds quite unbearable – that and the subtle bullying that is happening amongst her own circle of new acquaintances.

It’s a hugely emotional film with the camera rigged at Nora’s height so that we are really pulled into the centre of her storm.

It’s also the inability of doing the right thing on every level. The sensitive teacher isn’t always around at the right time, and when they are, the problem is much easier to deal with – and yet when away from the adults, is when the pressure comes into play.

It is their lives that become the playground as Nora starts acting out because of the way she has been messed up by all these raging emotions around the problems of protecting her brother.

Astonishing acting from all the children in a story that can impact so many lives everywhere. It’s also a directorial debut for Laura Wandel and shows great promise for the future. Her filmmaking is already faultless.

SILENT LAND

POLAND

Director: Agnieszka Woszczyńska Cast: Dobromir Dymecki, Agnieszka Żulewska, Jean Marc Barr, Alma Jodorowsky, Marcello Romolo Genre: Drama Time: 113 minutes

Polish, English, French, Italian with English subtitles – 2021

Everything about this film screams art movie in the best sense of the word. It’s the setting up of the story, the young couple playing the leads, the pace or sometimes lack thereof as well as the unfolding and slightly mysterious tone of film that adds to the quality of the viewing.

I was reminded throughout of European movies seen in the past presenting a similar atmosphere and handling of character and content. There’s no spoon feeding and the substance is serious yet accessible.

Director Agnieszka Woszczyńska says it best: ‘Silent Land is not only about the collapse of a relationship, but also about the collapse of the value system in the modern world, the general indifference to reality, and social lethargy. Ultimately, it is a tale about alienation, not only from each other, but also from the world. It’s about conformity and passivity, where the need for safety and convenience is a strategy for survival.’

THE GOOD BOSS

SPAIN

Director: Fernando León de Aranoa Cast: Javier Bardem, Manolo Solo, Almudena Amor Genre: Comedy Drama Time: 116 minutes

Spanish with English subtitles – 2021

Javier Bardem is one of those actors always worth watching. Not only does he pick his projects well, but his acting prowess is astonishing.

It’s especially when he is not the hero that all his instincts seem to kick in as he taps into even the darkest soul he has to portray.

As the title of this one suggests, he is anything but The Good Boss and again, few of us as employees would not recognise this manipulating, truly wily, yet awful human being. He is only concerned with his own well-being and whatever serves his personal needs.

That’s why his downfall is so delightful to experience especially in the capable hands of Bardem, who plays the smarmy owner of a family-run factory. If you need further persuasion, the film scooped a record-breaking 20 nominations at the 36th Spanish Goya Film Awards, winning 6 (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Score and Best Editing). It was also the Spanish entry for Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards

NATANIËL, AN ARTIST ON A MISSION, AS HE LAUNCHES THREE EXTRAVAGANT PRODUCTIONS

Checking in with artist Nataniël about his performance schedule these next few weeks/months, he is ending his year on an explosive note with three huge productions all starting or being performed in one week. DIANE DE BEER gives an overview of the festivities ahead:

Those who don’t know about Nataniël’s classical training and studies might be surprised to hear about Die Smitstraat Suite, an oratorium and lifelong ambition of this prolific composer of especially pop songs.

And as he explains it, this 80-minute-long composition consists of a few of his songs not yet recorded, combined with original music. “It will be presented as one musical piece inspired by the classical oratorium, or in some instances,suites,” he explains. The complete work includes nine compositions sung in English and Latin with the unique Nataniël touch – original stories in Afrikaans.

He knows what he is doing could be seen as old school, but in his mind, he is creating something that will last and can be performed through the ages.

Explaining the music, he describes it as filmic, done in an almost world music style.

Some of us who saw his recent performance of the Sanctus at the Arena which he performed with the Akustika choir and his regular musicians (Charl du Plessis, piano; Juan Oosthuizen, guitar; Peter Auret, percussion; with the addition of Ockie Vermeulen, organ), had a glimpse of what’s to come.

Once the piece is finished, every note is scored and he views this as Opus 1 in his life … and perhaps a hint of things to come.

If you were wondering about the name, he wanted to use a surname/name that wouldn’t have any one connection with anyone!

The appealing note in all of this is the fact that even though in most people’s book an oratorium means a very specific thing, Nataniël will make it his own.

Even when trying to explain the concept, he comes up with descriptions like a “framework with stories” or, said differently, “a reason and place for the following composition”.

He also notes that it is a piece of music with text which has no other purpose. For him though, it is something that will hold, not just disappear into thin air, and that makes sense of his artistry.

The concert has an age restriction of 14; it’s 80 minutes long and, warns the performer: phones that ring might lead to violence. I would heed the warning.

Performances:
October 1: Potchefstroom, Aardklop; Ticketpros.co.za
9 October: Affies, Aardklop Aubade; 11am and 3pm.

His annual Christmas season, this year titled Six in a Boat has moved from December to October.

“I hate the festive corporate bookings,” notes Nataniël. It sometimes means that the shows are packed with people who have to be there rather than want to, he feels, and he prefers audiences who come by choice. Who wouldn’t?

 The story was inspired by the visuals of people packed in a boat. Are they refugees. Holiday makers, fishermen or lifesavers?

It’s not as if we can ignore the elephant in the room, he points out. The world is at war.

He cannot understand how and why we tolerate dictatorships and wars? Why do people allow these things to happen? That’s the issue of the day – and the storyt of our time.

He is also hoping to be more extravagant visually. “I miss Emperor’s,” he says referring to his annual spectaculars for many past years. They will be three musicians and three singers (including Dihan Slabbert and Nicolaas Swart.

But he reminds us that there is only so much visual acrobatics the Atterbury Theatre can support. “If we should do a set, the cast won’t make it onto the stage.”

But there will be extra magic with the lighting and past experience has me excited. I know what he can achieve on a dime and with his imagination. He says all the music has been composed and scored but he will be busy writing stories until he steps onto stage. As seen here, his time is limited or limitless, depending how you view it.

Booking at Atterbury Theatre from October 11 to 16, Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7pm and Sunday at 3pm

No interval; no cell phones; no short pants; no children under 15; no drink in the auditorium; bar closes 15 minutes before the performance.

And finally, there’s the latest lifestyle television series with the two Le Roux brothers titled Nataniël. Erik. Wolf.

A Nataniël production or television season often starts with a book and this time was no different.

It was a thick forgotten folder packed with illustrations by the French artist, Gustave Doré.

He had so loved the drawings that he ordered the book and was completely captivated. The sketches also transported him back to his childhood and fairytales, as well as the desire to research and discover the original stories – untouched by commercial publishers and filmmakers.

Then he invited designers and artists – South Africans and Europeans – to participate in this fantastical season.

Following the past few years of the pandemic, Nataniël and his team returned to his favourite European city, Nantes, also the home of his brother Erik, for the first time in three years.

This time Erik sourced a centuries old workshop on the estate of an eccentric mansion and in-between the trees of a lush green forest, the new season flourished. “It looks like the kind of place where Gepetto has just finished carving Pinnochio,” he says.

Food, art, design, books, stories and beautiful music form the foundation of the series and pianist Charl du Plessis joined the group and is featured in many episodes and situations – some musical, other not.

Original Nataniël compositions were developed into a soundtrack and the siblings are holding thumbs that viewers will join them to relax, laugh constantly, cook generously, gravel adventurously, ask questions, address issues, find inspiration and get carried away by the deliciousness of it all, once a week for a few months.

How can we not?

From October 15, Sunday nights at 8pm on KykNet, with rebroadcasts during the week.

A link to all the shows for bookings: www.nataniël.co.za

THE PURPLE HAZE OF PRETORIA’S JACARANDAS CREATES THE PERFECT PICTURE OF A CAPITAL CITY

DIANE DE BEER

PICTURES: Thomas Honiball

PRETORIA, jakarandastad,

Dis weer Oktobermaand…

Miskien is dit die rede dat

Ek só verlang vanaand,

Want hoeveel jare het jy nie

My life en leed gedeel

En stil geluister wanneer ek

My ou kitaar bespeel

This is the first verse of singer/songwriter sublime Koos du Plessis’s ode to Pretoria.

He frames his beloved city in a cloak of purple haze, which is how many of us identify the most colourful capital city.

But much controversy has surrounded this emblem of the city over the years and there are visions of fights for this particular tree and the replanting and upkeep of the city’s pride for those of us living here long enough.

Money talks, and the hordes of tourists who visit the city annually is proof enough for everyone who witnesses this influx that, at least for the moment, Jacarandas are allowed to flourish and bloom in all their splendour.

The four annual stages of the Jacaranda tree

Jacaranda trees were first imported from Rio de Janeiro by Baron von Ludwig of Cape Town in about 1830. A travelling nurseryman from Cape Town named Templemann brought two Jacaranda trees to Pretoria in 1888. He planted them in the garden he had laid out for Jacob Daniel (Japie) Celliers at Myrtle Lodge in Sunnyside, shortly after it was established as Pretoria’s second suburb.

In the 1890s Celliers secured a concession from President Paul Kruger to plant trees in Groenkloof for the Government of the Republic. James Clark, a wholesale and retail seedsman, florist and nursery, received the order to import seeds from Australia.

The story goes that among the consignment of eucalyptus seeds Clark imported for planting in Pretoria in 1898, a packet of Jacaranda seeds had found their way.

On 16 November 1906, the 51st anniversary of the founding of Pretoria, Clark presented 200 Jacaranda trees to the City Council as a birthday present to Pretoria. These trees were planted in Bosman street in Arcadia Park where the Pretoria Art Museum was established in 1864.

Frank Walton James was appointed as town engineer in 1909. He suggested the planting of Jacarandas in all the streets of the town to enhance the status of Pretoria as the proposed capital of the Union. When Jameson left the Council in 1920, fewer than 6 000 trees had been planted. By 1939, with the constant encouragement of Jameson, the number of trees had risen to 17 000.

Today there are approximately 40 000 Jacaranda trees in the streets of Pretoria.

And these facts were all handed to me in a letter by Jacaranda activist, architect Thomas Honiball, a man who has always battled and fought for the preservation of Pretoria as the beautiful city it is.

Some of us still remember the huge controversy about the west façade of  Church Square, which was going to be demolished, but was finally left intact thanks to Honiball and a committee he had established with exactly this in mind. And the city proudly hails this part of its heritage today.

The aforementioned letter was written with a request to the Minister of Agriculture for the planting of Jacaranda trees in the city of Tshwane – and fortunately those battles were hard fought and won.

For Thomas, who lives in Nieu Muckleneuk with a spectacular view of Jacaranda blossoms when they are in full bloom, these trees hold and embrace the spirit of the city. He believes they were first planted to establish the character of a city that would be named the country’s capital – and thus it was.

“We have something that no other city boasts in such abundance,” he says. He also argues it is especially the city’s layout, the long streets, and the koppies,  that allow for the spectacular showing of this tree Pretorians have claimed for themselves.

And he has many anecdotes to claim the city’s towering Jacaranda status. “I was told the story that Elon Musk’s grandfather when he flew over the city and saw the spectacle of the purple blooms was so overwhelmed, he emigrated here,” he says.

He also remembers as a young Free State lad paying his first visit to the city and sighting the purple spectacle, how it overwhelmed him. “It was just so pretty!”

Thomas Honiball and the book of listings he instigated.

That’s not all he achieved in this city. He was also instrumental in the production of a book with the listing of buildings worth holding on to, often used by city planners to save specific buildings which form a part of the city’s heritage. It’s not something South Africa has always done well and we need these visual planners who understand the importance of cherishing the old while celebrating the new.

He is very aware that everything cannot be kept simply because its old. There’s a saying that if a city centre doesn’t change, keep up with the times, it will die.

Fortunately for Tshwane, we have citizens like Thomas Honiball in our midst who have the city’s interests at heart and understand the importance of the picture perfect visual that keeps us all mesmerised.

DIRECTOR SYLVAINE STRIKE CELEBRATES 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ICONIC EDWARD ALBEE SHOWPIECE, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

PICTURES: Jesse Kramer

Edward Albee’s iconic play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf celebrates its 60th anniversary. But this didn’t scare seasoned director Sylvaine Strike, who jumped at the chance even if she knew it would be tough. She spoke to DIANE DE BEER about the process:

Alan Committie (George), Robyn Scott (Martha), Berenice Barbier (Honey) and Sanda Shandu (Nick).

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf runs at Cape Town’s Theatre on The Bay until Saturday 8 October with performances every Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm and a Saturday matinee at 4pm.  It then moves to Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre in Fourways, where it will run from 14 October to 6 November with performances Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm and matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3pm.

An age appropriate restriction of no under 13’s apply.

Tickets are available through Computicket

“Where does one begin?

“A 60-year-old iconic play, a great classic known all over the world and translated into many languages. The first time I came across Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was at university when I was in first year and the play at the time was 30 years old and that seemed ancient! And now, it’s 60 years old and I’m doing it. So do the maths!”

But this is Sylvaine, someone who understands the pitfalls and go for it anyway. It’s been mammoth, far harder than she could imagine. And it started with the casting. The ensemble includes Alan Committie (George), Robyn Scott (Martha), Sanda Shandu (Nick) and newcomer Berenice Barbier (Honey).

Committie initially approached her with the project, asking if she would direct him and Robyn in those roles, she explains. “And quite frankly, even though the roles seemed so ancient when I attempted them in first year (I attempted to play Martha at 19, in an exercise of course when we were studying texts!), but now I realise that they weren’t that old at all.”

En famille in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

 Albee specifies that Martha is 52 and George is 48, so she’s gone with the original ages. “Robyn is a little younger, but it feels completely right so I immediately said yes, jumped at the chance of directing an Albee play. With him there’s always the circularity, the nonsensical, as each character exists in their own private ego, their own private silo, as we try and make meaning out of nothing for a night of absolute debauchery, madness, game playing and relationship thrashing.”

With her two leads in hand, it was time to turn her attention to the younger players. The chemistry between the couples as well as that between the younger and older couple, is what makes the play soar. That’s why, Alan and Robyn were both in attendance with the extensive auditions.

Post-covid, a lot of amazing young actors turned up  and much brilliance presented itself, but Sylvaine had to find the right match and chemistry. “It was also important to redefine the casting, to challenge Albee’s instructions, to challenge what an all-American couple looks like now, but it was finally determined by Berenice and Sanda, who are just exceptional together and have the most fantastic funny bones, and perfect chemistry.”

While it was written and produced as an all American play and Albee’s description of Nick is a blond, good-looking, all American boy,  the times determined those norms. “It’s a typical American look, but that’s changed 60 years down the line and about time,” says the director.

Sanda Shandu (Nick) and Berenice Barbier (Honey).

Once she had cast the production, she realised that hers would be a very new take on this play. And that’s the honest way to treat these classic productions – honour the writing yet adapt to the times.

As always, she did blind casting, but a very distinctive voice in her started asking questions. What would it look like, a Black man in the role of Nick? How will it be and what changes will occur in Albee’s writing that will hit home that haven’t hit home before in other productions all over the world?

And it came down to Berenice and Sanda who are just exceptional together. He isn’t new to the scene and people might recognise him from King Kong, but this is Berenice’s debut.

Sylvaine Strike pictured by Martin Kluge.

In the final analysis according to Strike, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf has hardly ever been done any other way than with two white couples and that’s missing out on numerous opportunities, because the text lends itself to how much and how little has changed in the US. And that especially is thrown into sharper focus.

She got together with her set designer Wolf Britz very early on to discuss what the template would be. She reminds me that she works with her set before anything else and both of them were completely in agreement that Albee’s words are enough and very little else is needed to support this particular story, this particular night in these people’s lives.

“So we haven’t gone with the clutter and the realism of an academic’s house. It is quite stark and very inviting in the sense that it is all in plush pink. But I actually don’t want to give too much away. It’s a perfect setting for things to go absolutely wrong and dark.

General chaos with the full cast.

“We basically have sofas and curtains and that’s to be used in ways that haven’t been used before, as usual,” she says with hints of Sylvaine secrecy and surprise.

To get the orchestration of this world, she’s using a world of ice and of liquor, tinkling of bottles and even more. And that, she says is just a tiny bit of it all, but it needs massive orchestration.

She chose to go with the American version of the play, because of the 60th celebration, and the cast underwent serious dialect coaching under Robyn, who is a prolific dialogue coach in Cape Town.

“They are speaking with an American accent, but that’s really all that lends from an American world, the rest is left to interpretation. Sando playing opposite Alan will resonate on a local level because there’s very much a boss and an underdog relationship that forms purely from the hierarchy that George imposes on Nick as a young academic new to the university and George having been there forever.

“And suddenly Albee’s words are revisited in a light that is really painful, very incisive and quite brutal. When George says to Nick, ‘I wish you wouldn’t say the word sir like that, you always call me sir with a little question mark at the end’, things like that suddenly resonate so much deeper. The words do all the work”

And, she notes, Nick has some amazing retorts back at George in which he claims the space and the future as the young man on the scene, so it speaks for itself, and speaks volumes.

Those in Gauteng might have missed the fact that Sylvaine has swapped her home in Joburg and moved to Cape Town.

Her son is starting university and it made a lot of sense for her to move, but she had been toying with it a long time since she was spending most of her working time there; making work, taking work or filming there.

“It meant I was away from the family more and more and more, longer days, longer months,” she says.

She also needed to be in a place that inspired her because she was battling to be in Johannesburg, to live there as an artist. “It had fuelled my fire for so long, but in the last five years, it’s been very hard.”

This is the change she needed, in the future she will continue to make work, collaborate with the festivals, The Baxter and this is her first play ever for Theatre on the Bay.

And good news for Gauteng, the Cape Town run is being followed by a season at the Pieter Toerien Theatre in Montecasino.

THE RELEVANCE OF ART THROUGH STORYTELLING

The best thing about the arts is that it is all about storytelling of some kind. Whether you are looking forward or reaching into the past, those who are the blessed recipients of the work whether on stage or hanging in an art gallery, will learn something that will have relevance in their own lives. DIANE DE BEER takes a look at current exhibitions at the Pretoria Art Museum:

Mondli Augustine Mbhele with his winning work for the 2022 Sasol New Signatures.

Full-time artist Mondli Mbhele (28) from Durban, KwaZulu-Natal has done exactly that, tell stories, and in the process has been announced as the winner of the 2022 Sasol New Signatures Art Competition.

Mbhele won the grand title for his work titled Iphasi nesiphesheli, which is part of a bigger series titled Umlando uyaziphinda. This is an isiZulu phrase, meaning “history repeats itself”. And don’t we all know that.

The series of mixed-media works is inspired by various iconic events from South Africa’s history.  In his winning work, Mbhele explores the dynamics of protests in contemporary South Africa. Yet before one even gets to the story, it is the colour and the clothes that captures your attention.

Mondli explains that this artwork was inspired by Sharpeville’s 21 March 1960 Anti-pass law event and the 2020 Covid19 events/laws regarding vaccination cards and face masks. “I saw that both of these share the same ideas in terms of accessibility.

“I use fabric collage as my medium of expression, because I am inspired by how fabric can be used in creating garments for different groups and ages of people, and I also realised similarities that fabric shares with our daily life events in the perspective of covering our bodies and busting or elevating our confidence to be able to face a new day. And also as a symbol of recognition or direction for example uniforms, like doctors, police, cleaners etc.

Mondli Mbhele’s Iphasi nesiphesheli, the winning work.

“In my work, I also use offcuts that I collect from fashion designers around Durban. While collecting these, I realised that fabrics have a gradation of value, worth and qualities. But when those offcuts of fabric are thrown away, they share the same state of being vulnerable. I recycle those offcuts and create a new dialogue that will get a chance to be appreciated and have a sense of their own purpose and voice rather than being thrown away.”

The brightly coloured collage is a snapshot of an ominous moment in a protest wherein a person is lying lifeless on the ground, yet no one seems alarmed. And therein lies the tale.

Mbhele walks away with a cash prize of R100 000 and the opportunity to have a solo exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum in 2023. 

Sasol has been the proud sponsor of the New Signatures competition for 32 years, which was established by the Association of Arts Pretoria in the late 1960’s and it is glorious that this time around we can once again, if we’re lucky and live in the city or close by, see the full extravagance and exuberance of this national competition.

From left: Malik Mali (Cape Town), Linde Kriel (Bloemfontein), Omolemo Rammile (Bloemfontein), Rohini Amratlal (Durban), Mondli Mbhele (Durban), Herman Pretorius (Pretoria) and Andrea Walters (Durban)

“For emerging artists, the challenge remains the same: breaking into a very competitive, ever-evolving field. Sasol is honoured to play a role in providing opportunities for emerging artists to showcase their work.  This year we had an unprecedented number of entries, which reinforces the need for a platform such as this. It also highlights the depth of talent and creativity across South African society,” said Elton Fortuin, Sasol Vice President: Group Communications and Brand Management.

Pfunzo Sidogi, Chairperson of the Sasol New Signatures Competition, said: “This year, we received over 1 000 entries from the seven regional judging rounds, the highest number of submissions in the competition’s long history. We were particularly encouraged by the increased number of entries received from artists who did not attain formal university art education. This speaks volumes of the creative energy and passion to produce art that exists in all quarters of the country, and it is critical that we provide platforms for this creativity to be seen and celebrated”.

I was also pleasantly surprised for example that the country as whole seemed to be represented and wish the exhibition could travel more widely – or even digitally.

Runner up Omolemo Rammile’s Mére célibataire (single mom).

Omolemo Rammile from Bloemfontein was crowned runner-up and awarded R25 000 for her work entitled Mére célibataire (single mom), which pays tribute to her mother and acknowledges the personal sacrifices she makes on a daily basis as a sole provider and breadwinner for her twin daughters. Bread is universally considered a staple food source. The artist uses embossed bread tags to symbolise the ‘daily bread’ her mother buys to feed her family. The multiple imprints of the bread tag on the paper are akin to the lasting impact and inner mark that the mother’s love has left on the artist and her family.

And again, staying with the storytelling, the two winning works would both resonate with especially South Africans because the stories although with universal merit, is also particularly (and poignantly) from home ground.

The 5 Merit award winners are:

Rohini Amratlal (Durban)

Merit award winner: Durban’s Rohini Amratlal’s Unveiling the archive.
Epoxy resin, wood, ‘Icansi’ (grass mat)

Epoxy resin, wood, ‘Icansi’ (grass mat)

Merit award winner: Bloemfontein’s Linde Kriel’s (Rest)Room.

Copperplate etching

Merit award winner: Upington’s Malik Mani’s From the concrete grew a rose.

Pencil on Arches paper

Merit award winner: Instructures by Herman Pretorius, Pretoria.

Archival prints & computer installation

Andrea Walters (Durban) #OverMyDeadBody 1#OverMyDeadBody 4

Sunlight soap & Perspex and Hospital gurney, embroidered shroud & speaker

Each Merit Award winner received a R10 000 cash prize.

“The judges at both the regional and final judging round were inspired and impressed by the diversity of narratives and boldness in artistic vision evident in some of the submissions, added Sidogi. While he paid tribute to the judges, the biggest acknowledgement went to every artist who entered the competition this year. “Your creativity, passion, and commitment to artmaking are priceless. The incredible turnout of entrants bodes well for the current and future vitality of art in South Africa. Onwards with the spirit of creativity. All sectors of South Africa are desperate for it.”.

Those who didn’t see the winning work of last year’s new Signature winner, will be able to view Supernature: Simulacra, the solo exhibition by the multidisciplinary artist Andrea du Plessis. This exhibitionis a deepening of her research into the sublime experience and the complex relationship with nature in an age marked by technological augmentation and simulation.      

Her work is quite extraordinary and pictures as with many other artworks, don’t do justice. It’s an extension of the Supernature series, she began in 2020; the work features an exploration of emerging technologies in combination with traditional oil painting to create interactive, immersive realms as well as an encyclopaedia of hybrid lifeforms. The artist hopes to offer the viewer an opportunity to consider our interconnectivity with the natural world and examines the possibility of reconnecting to nature via technology.

The solo exhibition and the Sasol New Signatures Art Competition exhibition runs until  2 October 2022.  All the finalists are included in the competition catalogue which can also be sourced online. The full exhibition is also available to view virtually on the website.

https://www.sasolsignatures.co.za/.co.za/

The fantastic work of last year’s winner Andrea du Plessis.

Her work is quite extraordinary and pictures as with many other artworks, don’t do justice. It’s an extension of the Supernature series, she began in 2020; the work features an exploration of emerging technologies in combination with traditional oil painting to create interactive, immersive realms as well as an encyclopaedia of hybrid lifeforms. The artist hopes to offer the viewer an opportunity to consider our interconnectivity with the natural world and examines the possibility of reconnecting to nature via technology.

From the beginning of September until 30 October 2022, an exhibition titled Fired Up! – Celebrating Southern African Glass Art showcases glass art and design in a myriad of creative interpretations at the Pretoria Art Museum.

Fired Up! will be complemented by a day of glass-blowing demonstrations at the Tshwane University of Technology Faculty of Arts and Design Campus from 26 to 29 September 2022 from 9am to 4pm, as well as a symposium on Saturday, 1 October 2022.

Those who didn’t see the winning work of last year’s new Signature winner, will be able to view Supernature: Simulacra, the solo exhibition by the multidisciplinary artist Andrea du Plessis. This exhibition is a deepening of her research into the sublime experience and the complex relationship with nature in an age marked by technological augmentation and simulation.      

The United Nations has declared 2022 as the International Year of Glass. A multitude of international events are planned throughout this special year, and several local institutions have been hard at work to ensure that Southern Africa is featured on this prestigious global calendar.

Several speakers from artists, academics and the industry will discuss the theme, Glass and its Future in an African Context. Attendees of this symposium will also enjoy live glass-blowing demonstrations at the Tshwane University of Technology Glass Studio.

Also check them on Instagram @southern_african_glass or email them at yog2022.southafrica@gmail.com for more information.

https://www.sasolsignatures.co.za/

CULINARY STUDENTS OF THE CAPITAL CITY PRESENT DINERS WITH FUTURISTIC FOODS

PICTURES: Hennie Fisher

What makes Tshwane such a fascinating foodie region is not just the restaurants or even home-cook scene, but also the many culinary teaching institutions that constantly produce fantastic events, always value for money and with cuisine that is usually forward thinking or at least on the edge of what is happening in the food world. DIANE DE BEER shares her two latest experiences with the city’s smart young training chefs and the way they are guided by the best, including Tashas’ Elze Roome, Geet’s Gita Jivan and Capital Hotel School’s Marlise Whelan, as well as Hennie Fisher of Consumer and Food Sciences at the University of Pretoria:

The chefs participating in the Capital Hotel School event, Geet’s Gita Jivan, Capital Hotel School’s Marlise Whelan, and Tashas’ Elze Roome with Hennie Fisher of Consumer and Food Sciences at the University of Pretoria, who was in charge of the second event.

It started for me at the Capital Hotel School with chef Marlise Whelan inviting Geet’s Gita and Tashas’ Elze Roome to guide the students through an evening of film and food.

The title of the evening was The Hundred Foot Journey, but the movie was simply an inspiration as watching and eating don’t always work well together.

And with this trio of chefs, you wanted to pay attention! It started with bread simply presented with a fresh sourdough, tomato, radish, olive oil, green olives and aioli. This girl could not think of a more perfect start.

The amuse bouche was the drop-dead combo of mignonette oyster and chicken liver paté, followed by the first starter of prawns and Hollandaise which included quail egg and caviar to complete the pretty picture.

The second starter took me back to the ‘60s when my mom, who was a keen dinner party cook, often served mushroom vol au vent, but these spectacular numbers boasted wild mushroom in a creamy ragout and this updated version is especially delicious.

Wild Mushroom Vol au Vent and Prawns and Hollandaise.

Before the mains, the palate cleanser was a tangy lime sorbet followed by an Indian Feast. Gita did her thing with platters of Dhal Arancini, Badami Murgh Tikka Masala, Nalli Gosht, Lemon and Cashew rice, Rumali Roti, poppadom with achar and sweet chili.

An Indian platter of deliciousness.

I can easily be bought with a roti, so to add all the delicious Indian spices and sauces with hints of cardamom, saffron, ginger, cinnamon and the list goes on, was la taste sensation. It was a licking of fingers as the dhal and the tikka masala had to share honour with the lemon and cashew rice, a poppadom for those who still had room and then there was more.

A pretty orange phyllo mille feuille.

The desserts included an orange phyllo mille feuille as well as cardamom chocolate ganache, orange confit and sabayon and a pineapple halva with almonds and rose petals.

It was a dreamy meal with Warwick, Simonsig, Paul Cluver and Pierre Jourdan sharing the wine honours.

It was lovely to bump into the bubbly managing director of the Capital Hotel School, Ronel Bezuidenhout, and the evening, magnificently presented from every point of view – parking to presentation of the food – was a huge success. It was great to see that they are maintaining standards and that there’s as much enthusiasm amongst the young chefs of the future as there ever was.

The spectacularly colourful Mapula Embroideries servers.

A few weeks later it was the turn of Hennie Fisher’s students to impress. The menu on the day showcased indigenous produce and products, one of their regular annual features and something I really enjoy. Dene Kirsten was tasked with creating the menu but in the end it was a group effort between her as Chef de Cuisine and the BConsumer Science Hospitality Fourth Years in different roles all participating in testing and perfecting each menu item before the finalised version was served.

We can argue for years about a typical South African meal and some day we might get there, but, if these University of Pretoria students have any say, they will be paving the way. Keeping South African dishes in mind, the brief was to create a menu utilising the gorgeous and abundant indigenous ingredients found in our country. Sustainability was also important to keep in mind when conceptualising the menu and event.

Grilled African eggplant, sundried tomato, roasted courgette and drained Amasi rolls.

 Grilled African eggplant, sundried tomato, roasted courgette and drained Amasi rolls started us off and got those juices flowing.

This was followed by one of my favourites, fishcakes, in this instance, trout fishcakes with Garri, a flour made of Cassava roots, which was used to coat the fish cakes instead of bread crumbs. A salad combining crust spekboom, water chestnut, Jerusalem artichoke and Zulu oregano leaf salad served with a chakalaka pesto blew my mind. It was a most imaginative plate of food.

Innovative trout fishcakes with a spekboom salad.

Just reading through the ingredients gets my mind racing and it was as spectacular as it sounds.

The mains combined palak style morogo (which most of us are familiar with), okra, Venda kale, amadumbe (which is described as the potato of the tropics) and fermented pap paneer curry served with sorghum and tef risotto, marula and quince chutney, plantain chips and cowpea (also called black-eyed pea) Amagwinya (aka vetkoek).

For those not familiar with Venda kale, it is locally known as Mutshaina and a true heirloom plant. It has a much sharper taste, almost like mustard, than traditional bought kale. It can also be described as ‘meaty’ since it has a rougher texture and does not cook as soft as traditional kale.

Palak style morogo, okra, Venda kale, amadumbe and fermented pap paneer curry served with sorghum and tef risotto, marula and quince chutney, plantain chips and cowpea Amagwinya (aka vetkoek).

Using a very popular dish in South Africa, Saag Paneer, as the base inspiration, they looked at various ways to add indigenous ingredients. They replaced the traditional spinach with indigenous morogo and Venda kale and added some okra for an extra touch. The spicy and fragrant sauce was the main flavour of the dish. In the place of paneer they fermented pap, cut it in cubes and grilled it to add a crispy texture on top. With that a creamy and subtle teff and sorghum risotto (sorghum and teff are both underrated indigenous grains which were cooked in the traditional risotto method), crispy and salty plantain chips and fluffy cowpea vetkoek/ amingwenya was provided to mop up the delicious sauce. To balance all the spiciness, a sweet quince chutney was also introduced.

That’s quite a mouthful and quite delicious but as the picture shows, they could have played a little more strongly with colours and textures. The students disagree, noting that taste and flavour trumps everything. They did not want to sacrifice the flavours and fresh ingredients used just to add a pop of colour. I disagree, because visual impact adds to the experience  ̶   and one can have it all.

My favourites on the plate were the starches including the sassy risotto, the chips and the Amagwinya! And very high marks have to go for sheer invention.

A sweet conclusion.

The sweet conclusion vied for similar honours with a carob toasted Lowveld chestnut roulade served with chocolate and carob sauce, naartjie and mondia whitei (described as a woody climber!) ice cream, gingko biloba brittle, Cape gooseberry and prickly pear salad. Try and top that for something more local!

It was truly impressive, as were the tables dressed in their latest Mapula Embroideries servers which set the tone for a truly splendid South African meal. It was truly special.

This time the wines represented Fryer’s Cove, Haute Cabriére and Orange River Cellars.

And again I doff my hat to the students, their lecturers and guest chefs and their institutions who work hard to get them economically viable as well as energetically enthusiastic for one of the toughest yet rewarding professions out there.

And we’re blessed to have all this food innovation happening in the city. Check it out when you can. There are many different ways to try their food and they are usually at the forefront of what is trending in the food world.