Hollywood Boere Bromanceby Kavish Chetty / 15.03.2011
This film is a product of high treason. If foreigners get their hands on this film, we are fucked as a nation. In fact, in a surge of patriotic pride, I considered it my nationalist duty as a South African to head to the projection booth after the screening and destroy the celluloid – but these suckers were one step ahead of me: they went digital. And thus, this garish virus of cinema is free to spread its cultural carcinogens throughout the public. Every stereotype imaginable; every cliché available, it’s all here.
When I first suggested to a friend that he come along to watch Getroud Met Rugby he assumed it was a romantic comedy about a middleaged Afrikaans woman married to a rugby addict. He has his friends over every weekend to watch the sport on television, or otherwise is a rabid attendant at the local stadia. He probably wears a rugby jersey to bed, and never pauses at the chance to froth at the mouth about his glory days in a homoerotic boarding school, playing touch with the lads. In that sense, she’s “married to rugby”; the game becomes a third partner in their betrothal.
This just brings into focus how curious the title actually is – this film is a “hard-hitting” drama and a tale of (clichés locked and loaded) guilt, surrender and redemption. If I wrote this review on the film’s terms, I’d have to scrawl quotation marks over every sentence to preserve my dignity. It’s impossible to employ their vocabulary without sounding like a jackass, and it would all be borrowed language. In a pivotal scene, one of the characters says, “It feels like there’s a hole in my chest where my heart used to be.” The film-makers have accurately (and unconsciously) mapped out the gulf between our little portion of dark continent and the global superpower that holds us in its thrall. It’s as though they, a semi-autonomous culture, watched all the B-grade pulp cinema America has ever produced, snorted several lines of its most vicious tropes, and then tried to apply what they’ve learned to their own. Just because you take a banal Hollywood film structure and swap out some of the surface elements – put in rugby players and Afrikaans accents and whores with big mouths who look like leftover extras from that recent South African vampire movie – doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished anything other than capitulated to the terms of your master.
So let’s get this story in place. Think of this film as an ‘80s black-meets-white cop drama, without the cops or the blacks. There are two principal lead characters. The first is a young delinquent called Reghardt who will one day became semi-famous as a Wentworth Miller lookalike. He suffers from perpetual anxiety because he believes that he was responsible for his brother’s death. His father is an alcoholic who pushes aside a plate of scrambled eggs for breakfast and pours himself another glass of cheap whiskey. So Reghardt manifests his complex in strange displays of outdated masculinity: he is sullen, aloof and emotionless and whenever someone appears to half threaten him he asks them, “dink jy ek is ‘n loser?” and then beats them up. Otherwise, he appears to only have one outfit throughout this entire film – a pair of blue mechanics trousers and matching jacket – and in a romance he starts up later, he shows himself off to be a social alien, not knowing when to kiss a girl and later asking his buddies, a marvellous and articulate take on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, “how do you know when a girl likes you?” His buddy says, “If she gets on her knees and lets you put a beer on her head while you watch the game.” You can just hear the faraway laughter of Pretoria misogynists. The other lead is a burnt-out ex Rugby pro named (there’s no bullshitting here) Fafa Beltrame. He’s fallen from grace and now lives with a stripper in a derelict apartment block. He’s supposed to be an alcoholic, but we only seen him drink Windhoek light throughout the film. If you want to be an alcoholic, palsy, do it properly! I want to see you pour peach brandy on your cornflakes like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver; I want to see you crying outside the liquor store on Sunday morning, with phlegm-flecked shoes. Fafa also only wears one garment throughout this film: a Truworths back-catalogue collared shirt.
So, anyway, shallow story short, Reghardt and Fafa are both up for community service after getting rowdy, and Fafa is assigned to take Reghardt under his wing and train him for the local Stryders rugby team. But they both have fiery personalities and are both (here come them clichés again, honey) fighting their personal demons (here’s the cop drama part; young and old clashing over their style, and a whole bunch of amplified fight-sequence sound effects that sound like Bollywood). So the tension here is this: can Reghardt absolve himself of his brother’s death? And can Fafa return to his glory days as “Fast Fafa”, wing for the Stryders?
To watch Getroud Met Rugby is to step through the fantasmatic screen of contemporary Afrikaans culture, and witness the bizarre play of masculine desires and intercultural conflicts. As the dialogue is so cumbersome and slow moving, it helps to shout out your own interjections in between the silences. Things like “Fafa, jou lekker ding” and “Dink jy ek is ‘n loser?” will do, but old monosyllabic classics like, “Kak”, “Fok” and “Blerrie hell!” will do just as well. I’m aware that slagging off this film is like wrestling with malnourished midgets or criticising suburban Cape Town indie rock musicians: it’s too easy and invariable becomes offensive. But there is a strange dynamic in this country that sets itself up. If I rip off Afrikaans culture, no one really gives a damn, because they’re on the losing side of our new dispensation. They’re seen as relics of an outmoded Apartheid culture that requires several years worth of satire before it has properly paid its price for twentieth-century xenophobia. But if I said the same thing about an African film, something like, “this is Meet the Parents decked out in loin-cloths and with a strange warmth for its erstwhile oppressor.” – I’d probably just sound plain old-fashioned racist. But why let our social moment’s ubiquitous double standards hold you back from jeering at this klunker of a film.
Unlike the dialogue, the music is not cumbersome and slow. It’s coercive and offensive, constantly blaring. You can hear a rip off of every MTV band ever, it’s all here. There’s Death Cab and Daft Punk, Rammstein and Foo Fighers; headbanging industrial metal and synth-saturated electro. The soundtrack begs you to crack open a couple of glow-sticks and go batshit crazy in the aisles. Soundtracks are usually supposed to have a general theme. This one doesn’t. If they release a soundtrack album, it’ll have to fit on about four discs, because I’ve never heard so much themeless non-diegetic music in my life.
This review has exhausted itself. This film is a parody and a self-caricature. It is a laughable and painful, filled with the promise of masochistic viewing pleasure. The way it takes itself so seriously just betrays all the repression going on beneath the surface.