Thursday, 29 October 2015

Opening the Box

“Dis Ek, Anna”


Izel Bezuidenhout (as Anna), Nicola Hanekom, and Morne Visser in Sara Blecher's "Dis Ek, Anna"

Dis Ek, Anna opened throughout South Africa on Friday 23 October 2015, with one of the most anticipated releases ever for a South African film, mostly due to the popularity of the two books from which it’s adapted – Anchien Troskie’s Dis Ek, Anna (“It’s Me, Anna”) and Die Staat Teen Anna Bruwer (“The State vs Anna Bruwer”). The essential subject of the film is known to most people, whether or not they’ve read the book: Anna, as a 12-year-old girl, is repeatedly raped by her paedophile stepfather. The event that triggers the telling of her story is nearly as well known: Anna, as a 30-year-old woman, arrives at her stepfather’s house one evening, and when he answers the door she shoots and kills him. These are the two crucial facts of the film. Based on the anticipation among South African audiences for its release, stoked by the film’s screenings at the Durban International Film Festival in July and the Silwerskermfees in August (where it won Best Feature Film, Best Director, and Best Actor for Morné Visser) and the film’s overwhelmingly positive receptions there, most people have decided that its precisely what they’d like to go see.

Dis Ek, Anna is directed by Sara Blecher, who also directed Ayanda, which opened three weeks ago, and Otelo Burning, released in 2011. With Dis Ek, Anna she takes a clear stance of condemning child rape, but shows no perspective or even interest in the characters of her story. In any of the scenes where the stepfather, Danie (played by Morné Visser), molests or rapes Anna (Izel Bezuidenhout), Blecher’s camera tactfully moves into a position where nothing distasteful is shown, while still efficiently conveying all the necessary information. An obvious reason for this is that it would be illegal to show much more of Bezuidenhout – who is still a child – but Blecher has personal reasons as well. We can’t stand to see an adult man raping a young girl, and Blecher can hardly stomach the thought. She leads up to each instance of molestation bearing the notion that if we actually saw it, we would be repulsed, and probably even psychologically damaged in some way. Her images successfully convey, mostly pre-emptively, the horror she feels when she contemplates Danie’s actions. The outcry that broke out when Dis Ek, Anna was given the age restriction of 18 (SVLN) by the Film and Publication Board – for apparently containing images that may be considered pornographic – was just; there is no visible nudity in the film, and nothing in here is erotic or rousing. It’s the furthest from pornography any sex could be.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Stage Craft

“Venus in Fur”

This is one of my first reviews, written before I had a blog, when I first saw this movie. Youll notice disparities between my current writing and the writing found in this early work. I hope the difference reflects well, if not on me, at least on your judiciousness.

A moment from "Venus in Fur," hopefully hinting at the titillation on offer here

Like most great films, and indeed many good films, Venus in Fur, Roman Polanski’s latest endeavour, can inspire, and has inspired, a good deal of discussion on what it’s about: sex and power; art and life; the artifice of the theatre and how that helps the art form help us deal with our questions; the simultaneous logic and absurdity of desire, etc.

But why choose? And why not consider that it could also be about the film’s auteur, or at least that some understanding can be gained from looking at Mr Polanski’s life and career? A Holocaust survivor, an exile and a fugitive, a victim of great loss and suffering, a sex offender, Mr Polanski does not often play at autobiography in his films, but does seem to tackle, or at least engage with, some of his personal demons in his films. The film is based on the play by David Ives, which in turn in based on the 1870 Austrian novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masochs, from whose name and work we’ve derived the world “masochism”. That novel was based largely on the life and relationships of its author, and Mr Polanski has certainly left his mark on this adaptation. The female part, Vanda Jourdain, is played by his wife Emmanuelle Seigner, and her foil, Thomas Novachek, is played by Mathieu Amalric as an impersonation of his director, unless his diminished stature, nervous energy and neat haircut are all a coincidence.

Fairy Tales

“Maleficent”


This is, I believe, the first review I ever wrote, long before I considered starting a blog. Youll notice disparities between my current writing and the writing found in this early work. I hope the difference reflects well, if not on me, at least on your judiciousness.

The regal Angelina Jolie, grabbing attention and holding it with a firmer grasp than the all-share holds over a coke addict

In Maleficent, Disney’s new live-action release, the 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty gets the “Wicked treatment”, in which the well known tale is told from the perspective of its villain, providing a back story to explain her malice and inviting us to sympathise with someone we’ve been taught to distrust and despise. Unlike Wicked, however, Maleficent does not act as a parallel to its source, but is a re-telling, shifting the “good” and “bad” sides and giving an entirely different conclusion to the story.

If any of the early Disney classics were to be chosen for adaptation into a contemporary 3D CGI-laden blockbuster, Sleeping Beauty might just be the best choice. Often hailed as one of Walt’s best, it features magnificent stylised designs by the painter Eyving Earle, also the film’s art designer, giving it a truly unique look, a lush score by George Bruns, based on Tchaikovsky’s music for the ballet, moments of grandeur and one of the most menacing villains in the canon. It was also the first to be photographed and released in the 70mm-widescreen format and the last fairytale adaptation by the studio until The Little Mermaid, 30 years later, long after Walt Disney’s death. The visuals of this film, stunningly rendered by the photography crew and effects artists, don’t look like a photo-real copy of Earle’s gorgeous paintings, but rather like another rendition of the same universe. The forest has the same charming quaintness and calmness in its isolation from the castle, which has the same medieval austerity, though this time with a harsher atmosphere about it because of the people who inhabit it. The director, Robert Stromberg, was production designer on Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, and this film takes place in another rich dreamscape, though it’s a little less superbly bizarre than Avatar or Alice, because it professes to exist on our planet.

Looks Like Rain

Noah


This is one of my first reviews, written before I had a blog, when I first saw this movie. Youll notice disparities between my current writing and the writing found in this early work. I hope the difference reflects well, if not on me, at least on your judiciousness.

An example of a distinctive image in Aronofsky's idiosyncratic Biblical epic "Noah"

Nearly sixty years after the release of DeMille’s vast epic The Ten Commandments, and ten years after the significant success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Darren Aronofsky and Paramount have taken the sizeable risk of producing a biblical epic, the story taken directly from scripture, and releasing it as a major commercial feature.

Naturally, it took time to get the project backed and produced, with Aronofsky beginning work on the script in 2000, and continuing with it, along with his collaborator Ari Handel, intermittently between other ventures until they released it as a graphic novel in French in 2011, under the title Noé: Pour la cruauté des homnes (Noah: For the Cruelty of Men). After this was published, a deal was struck with Paramount for a budget of $130 million, still no mean sum in Hollywood terms.

I can report that Aronofsky’s persistence – and Paramount’s capital – have paid off… somewhat. The film, not without flaws, is mostly a success, in some ways a marvel, and often an entertaining work, not to mention one of the craziest big films in years. It’s not a subtle work, but Aronofsky has not aimed for restraint and understatement here. He’s made a film telling an ancient, archetypal story, loaded with celestial beings, centuries-old patriarchs, supernaturally-endowed plants and trees, sacred animals, divine retribution and, bizarrely, environmentalist fury. The parts of Noah that don’t work really and truly don’t. But the parts that do sweep you away entirely.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Out In Africa

While You Weren’t Looking


This article originally appeared in Perdeby, and is reprinted here with the editors permission.

Petronella Tshuma and Thishiwe Ziqubu as lovers from the opposite sides of the tracks in Catherine Stewart's "While You Weren't Looking"

The thesis of Catherine Stewart’s new film While You Weren’t Looking, which opened on 2 October, is made explicit by the lovelorn gay lecturer Mack (Lionel Newton), who tells his students, “If you can ‘queer’ gender, you can ‘queer’ anything.” He means that the broad-mindedness of the openly homosexual, bisexual, and sexually explorative characters in the film – as well as those who approvingly accept them – is precisely what is required for South African society to move into the non-racial, non-sexist, progressive state to which it aspires.

Noble though the film’s position be, it fails to match this vision with artistry. With its clumsy dialogue and artificial performances, the film doesn’t take a sympathetic look at the lives of queer South Africans as much as it retreads jaded stereotypes – the gay art lovers, the gaudy feather boas – and tries (and fails) to kindle discussion on the problems they face. We have a gorgeously inclusive Constitution, as the characters assert, but in spite of this – or, perhaps, because of it – problems still arise.