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In-DIFF-erence

by Roger Young / 23.07.2010

The Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) is probably the most important showcase for the South African film industry. For the next ten days we (Myself and Sarah Dawson) will attempt to cover the DIFF. I say attempt because the program is, as usual, so full of films to see that by day four we will be image fucked, We’ll be saying scenes happened in films that didn’t exist and chasing the ghosts of the ultimate cocktail party, stumbling through attention whores, filmmakers who have never made a film, renegade musicians, strange academics, short film geeks from Rotterdam, Spanish beard strokers, Pan African intellectuals, vaguely Canadian documentarians and the films themselves. We’ll try keep it together, we honestly will. But the DIFF comes along once a year and throws so many godamn films at us, forcing us into some kind of dream state where we wander from venue to venue with a mounting anxiety that we’re missing the one film we will never get to see again that it is quite pointless to try pretend that it’s humanly possible to take it all in. It’s no wonder that we never see mainstream film writers here, the DIFF would render them speechless, as it does all mortals. But enough gushing, on to the films.

Durban International Film Fest Dairy: DAY ONE

OPENING NIGHT FILM (+ dignitaries, funders and desperate filmmaker cocktail party)

STATE OF VIOLENCE: Directed by Khalo Matabane (South Africa)

Matabane’s last film Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon won the Best South African film at 2007’s DIFF (or 2006 according to the REEL TIMES daily DIFF newsletter) so there is quite a bit of expectation going in. After the usual projection problems (really, let’s just put opening night digital projection hiccup in the program and be done with it) State of Violence opens with some laboured exposition and then gets into a distant meditative mood that, in some weird way, makes revenge seem innately, almost domestically, normal, not grim or extreme, but just basic. The first gut response I have walking out is that the protagonist Bobedi, the CEO of a mining company whose wife is killed in what is meant to look like a random break-in, is a little slow to not realize who the villain was, but Violence is not a standard vigilante film, it’s more about a state of mind. The film, ultimately, seems unfinished (this cut was completed less than 24 hours before the screening) but also progressive in the way it refuses to glamorize the act of revenge. Initially parts of it felt a little overly handwringing but it gets into a pace that shows us that the dull mind of someone who has unconsciously and lengthily distanced themselves from violence, only to have to wade back in, is not overtly accessible. Problems abound, technical issues in the sky behind telephone poles, the superfluous guru, some plot stuff around strength and cable ties and the difficult to work out age of the villain, tend to pull you out of the melancholy that Matabane finds in the meditation of the job at hand. In the end State Of Violence is a necessary pre-emptive strike against the standard vigilante picture that would be too easy to make in a late post-struggle environment.

Performances from Fana Mokoena and Presley Chweneyagae are intuitive and bold and pull them through moments where script lets them down. At times Bobedi’s deep emotional turmoil comes across as blank and this can leave the film feeling quite thin. For me it was disappointing that the mindset behind the maternal protection of the villain was not explored more deeply and contrasted with the hero’s mother’s reaction. In the end State Of Violence is a stark, stripped down and affecting film about the numbness of revenge.

Then we drink. Shall I rate the prawn samoosas? Must I tell you about the sticky chicken? Or the weird coordinated group jazz dancing? I’m talking to people about digital distribution and the problems with the red wine but there seems to me to be something lacking in the excitement of last years DIFF, maybe it’s just the weight of the bigger program, the too much to see-ness of it all but I feel heavy.

ROGER’S SELECTION FOR FRIDAY 23RD JULY.
THE WHITE MEADOWS: Dir: Mohammed Rasoulof (Iran)
PARADISE STOP: Dir: Jann Turner (South Africa)
SEX&DRUGS&ROCK&ROLL: Dir: Mat Whitecross (UK)

SARAH DAWSON’S SELECTION FOR FRIDAY 23RD JULY.
THE WHITE MEADOWS: Dir: Mohammed Rasoulof (Iran)
I KILLED MY MOTHER: Dir Xavier Dolan (Canada)
METROPIA: Dir: Tarik Saleh (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland)

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