Latest Review – Of Good Report (Spier Films) (Official Competition) (LFF)

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of-good-report

Of Good Report

Spier Films / Jahmil X.T. Qubeka / 2013 / South Africa

Running Time: 109 minutes

Genre: Drama / Thriller

Certificate: 18

Image: Black & White

Language: Xhosa / Sotho / English

Subtitles: English

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Originally due to receive its world premiere on July 18, 2013 – the opening night of the 34th Durban International Film Festival –  director, Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s ‘Of Good Report’, his passionate and extremely controversial homage to classic film noir, was however banned by the state-run Film and Publications Board on the day of the screening, due to the appearance of one particularly controversial scene which they claimed constituted ‘child pornography’.

After a week long protest and appeal from frustrated filmmakers and audience members alike, the ban was eventually lifted, Qubeka’s film was then finally given a rating (classified as suitable for viewers aged 16 or over) and was screened nearly two weeks later on the closing day  of the festival.

Interestingly enough, Qubeka received a new annual award for Artistic Bravery in acknowledgment of “the film’s achievements in stimulating worldwide debate and highlighting important issues in South African society.”

Described by its director as a ‘serial killer origins story’, Qubeka’s astute examination of obsession, lust and contemporary social issues, set in an impoverished rural South African township, centres on the increasingly dark journey of the introverted high school teacher, Parker Sithole (Mothusi Magano).

Having been newly hired to teach English based on references ‘Of Good Report’, Sithole soon begins an illicit affair with the provocative Nolitha (Petronella Tshuma) (a Nabokov/Kubrick riff perhaps?), whom he meets at a local bar.

However, it is not until the following day that Sithole discovers that the aforementioned Nolitha is none other than one of the underaged, sixteen-year old pupils in his new class, and as the months roll by, his obsessive tendencies lead him down an increasingly sinister path with tragic consequences.

Drawing the audience right of their comfort zone and continually challenging them with controversial and though provoking questions and situations, Qubeka’s often disturbing film proves a striking and enduring study of character and morality.

Aside from the film’s central character study, the piece explores the state of the nation, a rural town suffering under economic crisis and government neglect, themes of isolation, poverty, avarice; profound aspects that can often be overlooked, to add a greater sense of depth and resonance to the piece.

Qubeka juxtaposes the (silent) benevolent external virtues of Sithole’s character with the (loud) malevolent internal attributes that provoke his ultimate downfall, cleverly utilising the deep shadows of the monochrome image as a device to conceal the dark secrets of it central antagonist.

Pacing does tend to fall slightly flat at times, however it is mostly when depicting the more intimate or low-key scenes of society and domestic life, and is in fact quite a nice contrast to the more intense central plot line, which gently builds atmospheric tension as the story develops and unfolds.

Mothusi Magano is highly impressive in the central role – a seemingly ordinary man haunted and slowly consumed by his own obsessions – particularly considering the character is silent for what is almost the entire film, with Magano relying on physicality and facial expressions to draw out Sithole’s dark, psychotic character traits.

The ensemble are equally strong and there are some very well achieved performances from what is a relatively unknown supporting cast; newcomer, Petronella Tshuma is particularly impressive as the troubled young ‘Lolita’ – sorry, ‘Nolitha’.

Captured in crisp, stark black and white by cinematographer Jonathan Kovel, and incorporating inventive close up, observational imagery, chiaroscuro lighting and artistic pulling focus (or rack focus) techniques, Qubeka’s bold, film proves an subtly intense and highly atmospheric work that evokes distinct shades of all the eminent noir filmmakers that have clearly influenced him.

A original, aesthetic, powerful and very worthwhile slice of South African cinema. Challenging and highly recommended!

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