Hard life being tough on screen

2009-08-15 00:00

ALTHOUGH independent films can be hard to finance, Steve Jacobs, director and co-producer of the film adaptation of J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, believes that people still want to be stimulated by serious cinema.

“Disgrace is no Transformers, so that made finding finance tricky, but I believe we need to see films like this for the good of our souls.

“Realist cinema is not popular at the moment — it’s basically escapist — but I, for one, think it would be a real pity if there was no serious cinema anymore,” he added.

Jacobs, a graduate of Charles Stuart University in Australia, was given the task of helming the film version of the Booker prize-winning novel by his partner in the production company Wild Strawberries, Anna-Maria Monticelli.

The pair had previously worked together on the film La Spagnola, which won the award for best film at three international film festivals and was Australia’s official entry for foreign language film in the 2002 Academy Awards.

“Anna-Maria told me the book could be a great film and after I read it I agreed,” Jacobs said. “I was blown away by it. It’s a great, great novel.”

Before shooting a single frame, however, the director, who believes in approaching every project from the visual perspective, set out to scout for the perfect location.

“A location scout took me a few hundred kilometres around Cape Town to look at various sites. We drove all day. I knew what I wanted, but it took us a while to find,” he explained.

“When we found the location we built the farm. Some of the music was thought of before we started shooting. With a tight schedule you have to be prepared. You have to organise yourselves, so where there are problems there are solutions”.

Filming eventually took place in the Cedarburg and Cape Town over two months in early 2007.

When it came to the acting talent for the project, Jacobs and Monticelli initially approached Oscar winner Ralph Fiennes to play the role of David Lurie, a divorced professor of romantic poetry in post-apartheid South Africa. When he dropped out, John Malkovich came on board.

Asked what it was like to work with the legendary actor, Jacobs said: “He’s very professional. You can ask him to do variations in a scene and he’s able to deliver it. It really helps you as a director as you can paint different tones of character.”

When it came to casting the role of Lucy Lurie, the director admits that he put the relatively inexperienced South African actress, Jessica Haines, a former Epworth pupil, through the ringer.

“If you’re going to do a role like that and you don’t have experience, we need to be confident that you can do it,” Jacobs explained. “It’s emotionally and technically exhausting, and would have been challenging even for an experienced actress, so we had to be sure that she was up for it and she was.”

He and Monticelli also opted for an unknown in the role of Melanie, the student with whom David Lurie has an affair. The actress chosen to play the role was Antoniette Engel, whose previous credits included the film Luck at the End of the World and a number of theatre productions.

Jacobs said it had taken time to find the right person for the role, but Engel, who is completing her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Cape Town, had been great in the film.

As for his thoughts on the finished product, he says: “People really love the book, so the expectations for Disgrace were high, but we are happy with what we set out to make.”

He also believes that the film, like the book, will create a degree of controversy “in a productive way, not sensationalist”, adding: “It will press some buttons that are deep in all of us.”

• See Disgrace at Cinema Nouveau Gateway.

Disgrace tells the story of DavidLurie, a divorced professor ofromantic poetry, in post-apartheid South Africa, who is fired for having an affair with a student.

He retreats to the farm of his daughter, Lucy, where he helps harvest flowers and volunteers at an animal welfare clinic.

This peaceful way of life is shattered when three strangers violently attack David and rape Lucy. She later discovers she is pregnant and decides to keep the child and to share her land with Petrus, a black landowner, in return for his protection.

Her decisions push David to his limits as a father and a man, but eventually he learns to accept his daughter and the changing country.

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