Review – Accession: Stomach-turning and important

2012-07-27 14:30

There were only a handful of people at the premiere of local feature Accession at the Durban International Film Festival last night. By the end their numbers had dwindled.

About a quarter of them walked out, one commenting loudly that she found the experience sadistic. Those that stayed until the end didn’t want to leave. They wanted to engage director Michael J Rix in a discussion about the sleek and shattering Aids film he’d just presented.

Accession is about John, who lives in Duduza in Nigel. It’s very much only about John. It starts in colour and gradually drains itself until it ends in black and white and a storm breaks over the township.

In Rix’s unflinching, experimental, documentary-style narrative, the camera focuses almost exclusively on John, going inside his head and his sex habits.

Other characters are often in blurred focus or not seen at all. There’s no music whatsoever, no gimmicks, no title sequence even, just John.

He walks and the camera sticks with him. He stops and chats to friends, eats meals on the street and hooks up with any local girl who’s in the mood for sex – in his shack or in the fields around it. John has sex several times a day if he can find it.

He is unemployed, bored and thoroughly unlikable. He doesn’t start out that way. Excellently played by Pethro Themba Mbole in his debut feature, the actor generated his own dialogue, helping forge his character.

By the end John is an arch-villain. When he finds out that one of the women he sleeps with is HIV positive he goes into crisis.

He explores options but avoids the clinic. He visits a sangoma and he is told by a friend that sex with a virgin is an instant cure.

That’s about as much as I can tell you about the plot without giving the film’s double shockers away.

But shocking they are. We read about John in the papers almost every day in this country, but when we are asked to watch a film that shines a light on his behaviour it seems we can hardly bear to watch.

Our response to Accession tells us a whole lot about who we are and how we are struggling to engage with the plague of sexual violence we are living with.

For my money, it’s a finely-tuned piece of activism and an important film that finds a new language to discuss Aids.

It’s also stomach-churning, so be warned. But go and see it – it has one final screening tonight.

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