Johnny is Nie Dood Nie.
Johnny is Nie Dood Nie.
Image: Supplied

It is heritage month and once again we are all encouraged to celebrate our varied SA traditions in a brief moment of collective national pride that will smooth over the increasingly large cracks that have opened up in the 29 years since the advent of democracy … at least for one day, or as long as the braai takes.

The post-democratic cinematic output of the nation has been checkered, uneven, uncertain and frustrating but not without moments at which local filmmakers have managed to rise above the machinations of cultural gatekeepers to create works that both dramatically satisfy and usefully engage with pertinent issues facing us in our still youthful transformation from claustrophobic oppression to exuberant self-expression.

Here are three films that each offer singular onscreen interpretations of some of the widely varied experiences that make us the often maddening, always diverse, sometimes darkly humoured and constantly inquisitive people that we are.

The art house essential:

Of Good Report — Netflix

Jahmil XT Qubeka’s dark 2013 psychological horror made waves when it was denied a classification for its premier screening at the Durban International Film Festival by the Film and Publications Board, in what many at the time described as a banning that harked back to the draconian days of the apartheid-era censors.

Once the dust had settled and the film was finally able to be seen, it emerged as an atmospherically unsettling investigation of a nasty psychopathic character who used his position as a teacher to prey on young women in a desolate, forgotten small town.

Played with brooding intensity by Mothusi Mogano, Parker Sithole is a seemingly respectable if somewhat shy young man who arrives in town to take up a position teaching English. When he develops a sexual obsession with one of his students, Parker becomes something far more terrifying and troubled and violent.

Filmed in classic noir black and white and quietly referencing a host of genres from noir to Spaghetti Westerns and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, it’s a brave and determinedly grisly film that though it sometimes shifts a little unsteadily in tone, always keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wait to see what diabolical darkness Parker will next unleash.


The stone-cold classic:

Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema — Netflix

Ralph Ziman’s stylish 2008 crime drama depressingly maintains its relevance thanks to its focus on the still unresolved and recently tragic social reality of hijacked buildings in Johannesburg’s CBD.

Jafta Mamlambo and Rapulana Seiphomo play the roles of young and older street kid turned “slumlord millionaire” Lucky Kunene, who we follow on his journey from car hijacker to building hijacker in the ruthless greed-obsessed environs of SA’s richest city in the post-democratic era.

It may often rely a little too heavily on mob and crime movie cliches but it’s energy,  unflinching but not always unnecessary violence, some committed performances and a strong feel for the feel of Johannesburg, carry the day.

It’s a film whose ultimate message about stealing big has —thanks to the real-world realities that have overtaken it — only gotten more depressingly relevant and less cynical over time. As an early attempt in “new SA cinema,” to combine the thrills and twists of the crime genre with a commentary on broader social realities, it still holds a significant place even if it’s not quite the solid melding of genre and politics it hoped to be.

Thankfully Lucky does manage in the film’s best moments to remember to slyly laugh at the madness of the all-too-real situation that he’s exploiting, even as everything is swiftly going to hell in a handbasket around him.


The diamond in the rough:

Johnny is Nie Dood Nie — Showmax

Acclaimed Afrikaans theatre director Christian Olwagen made his feature film debut with this tightly worked adaptation of a stage play by Malan Steyn, which celebrates the anarchism of the influential anti-apartheid Afrikaner cultural movement.

On the day that the death of acclaimed counter-culture Afrikaans singer Johannes Kerkorrel is announced, a group of old university friends gather together for a reunion braai. Saddened by the news of their hero’s death, they reminisce about their own pasts and uneasy relationship to Afrikaner identity as outsider, regime-opposed rebels who found purpose and resonance in the energetically finger-giving spirit of the late 1980s alternative music scene and the legendary Voëlvry tour. These memories may be at odds with the people they’ve become but they are as we soon discover also vital to the lives they’ve chosen to live.

Small but carefully observed in its execution and probing and necessary in its broader thematic explorations, it’s a film that requires listening to, and offers a deeply felt tribute to Kerkorrel and the spirit of rebellion that he instilled in so many likeminded, existentially torn young men and women of his generation.


© Wanted 2024 - If you would like to reproduce this article please email us.