Monday, November 01, 2004

Fade to Blechh

*WARNING: at least 2 spoilers ahead*

What is it with South African films and conclusions? Remember "Promised Land"? Had a nice visual style: plenty bleak, stingy with the saturation, evocative landscapes. Acting wasn't awful. There were hints that this was going to be a nuanced exploration of local cultural tensions. Slow? Nah, it was carefully pacing itself to allow the intricacied observations their necessary time to unfold. Then, right at the end, things needed wrapping up: the bad guys and their bad wives and bad children (Afrikaaners desperately clinging onto their 'traditional values' of hatred and abuse and inbreeding and other frowned-upon activities) are gunned down by the cops in slow motion. With every polarizing shot, we watched a good hour and a half of character development turn into a Bruckheimeresque, bullet-casing-hitting-the-floor-in-5-channel-surround morality tale. With less morality than plain ol' bloodthirst. The dinner table showdown is reminiscent of nothing so much as the Matrix's infamous lobby scene. So, yeah, kinda puts a damper on the whole affair.

Then last week I watched "Gums and Noses", the story of a mediocre adman's cocaine-fuelled rise to award-winning glory (and then slow fall down into... something else). It too had flashes of potential: the visual storyboarding of the ads, the very occasionally amusing script. Plus, if SA film sometimes seems overly eager to proudly ape internationally-tested stylistic 'edginess', a movie about the creative process behind advertisement generation was possibly an opportunity to match form with function and deliver some sharp, funny satire. Until...

To be 'fair', a lot goes wrong before the end, but that's when things really turn ugly. The movie had a decision to make about what was actually going to follow the protracted narrative of decline that it had been pursuing for the last hour (Did things turn bad with the nosebleeds? Or was it when he started taking the coke rectally? Maybe it was the car accident... after watching the protagonist walk away unscathed again and again, we start to wonder if we're being taught ANY kind of lesson here). So what's the call? As if suddenly realizing its acute lack of finality, the film makes a bizarre and uneasy shift into bloodstained realism, where the flickers of comedy are so pathetic and poorly timed that we don't know if things are just darkly unfunny or if the film has half-bloomed into self-parody. And the awfulness of Gums's punch line is such that the arguments about intentionality are rendered somewhat moot.

Any examples to the contrary here? To be fair, I've seen only a fraction of the local cinematic output.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah, the sense of conceptual wholeness one gets from ending a post about endings with such half-heartedness.

10:15 PM  
Blogger jermaine noble said...

(ps. that wasn't actually anonymous, that was me.)

10:16 PM  
Blogger jermaine noble said...

i realize now that i didn't actually see G&N's from the beginning, and I see now that there was *some* kind of attempt at resolution. still think it didn't work.

5:31 PM  

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