Long Streetby Roger Young / 25.07.2009
Long Street is a work of such staggering emotional beauty and restraint that the fact that it’s so gorgeously shot is almost secondary. Director Revel Fox uses his images to suggest inner thought in a way that makes the images themselves the emotion. Quite simply, it is the most poetic South African film I have seen ever.
Sia, a young musician, is thrown out of a rehab; her mother, who has just returned from her father’s funeral, takes her in. Sia’s father is suffering from writer’s block and has a deep desire to reconcile with his daughter and estranged wife, but quite simply cannot express himself. While it could have easily become a “message” film, it never stoops to being preachy. There is no long “How to quit drugs” speechifying. In fact, there is so little dialogue throughout that it could almost qualify as a silent film, and this is where its power lies. Fox uses music and images together in a way that builds and signifies emotions without resorting to detailed conversations about “how we feel”. In this way, it frees itself from the specifics of one family’s struggle to cope with themselves and instead becomes allegorical in nature.
Long Street is not a perfect film. There are some slightly stilted moments and while shying away from some of the realities of the struggle to stay clean, it also resorts to some of the clichés. But it never does so in a clichéd manner. The film is a journey toward conversation. It seems to make the observation that the important component of any healing conversation is not necessarily the content but the mere fact that the conversation begins.
More importantly, Long Street never ventures into matters of race or cultural identity, but manages to portray a wide range of races and identities convincingly. It does this by merely allowing it’s characters to be humans and not ciphers. By dispensing with everything but the outlines of conflicts, it manages to make itself totally emotionally accessible and as vulnerable as its protagonists.
Plot is almost incidental. In order to experience the film one must abandon the mainstream notion of incidents and resolutions, for Long Street is a film about the space between resolutions, the distance between emotional horizons. There is a small moment when Sia attempts to explain her path to her mother and is simply unconvincing, primarily because we have understood her path already, through simple visual metaphors, her lying in long grass, disappearing. Musical instruments are essential to the film, especially since Sia’s steps toward finding resolution are her trying to find her own way to sing again.
Beautifully shot, performed with restraint, musically paced, elegant in its silences, Long Street is simply a remarkable achievement.
*Directed by Revel Fox
LONG STREET screens again at the Durban International Film Festival on 27th July at Musgrave cinema.