DIFF review – Love the One You Love is as fresh as a neon daisy

2014-07-21 16:50

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A new young female voice burst onto the South African film scene last night with the premiere of the unique and intriguing Love the One You Love.

It is Cape Town writer and director Jenna Cato Bass’ debut feature and it enthralled the auditorium, which was so packed people were sitting in the aisles.

The film is a singular vision of love as a supernatural haunting. It plays out mostly in nightclubs, on the streets of Cape Town and in the apartment of Terri (Chi Mhende) and Sandile (Andile Nebulane).

She’s a phone sex operator, he’s a dog handler. They’re in love – but she can’t say the words. She doesn’t want her happiness to be determined by someone else.

In a curious mix of lurid, cheesy art department and raw, intense emotion, the film is as fresh as a neon daisy.

The story plays out like a conspiracy theory. Men in Mandela masks keep passing by and external factors like hearing a bad Eighties song determine the lead couple’s fate.

Woven into their story is the tale of one of her clients, a computer operator, and his friendship with the young brother of his ex-girlfriend (Louw Venter and the brilliant, offbeat kid star Dayaan Salie).

Bass shot the film with an intimate, all-seeing camera and even co-edited it. The dialogue was improvised by the cast.

It all sounds a little odd, but Love the One You Love is unlike any film before it and it is utterly compelling from beginning to end, somehow extracting the weirdness of living in the bubble that is Cape Town in a country like South Africa.

Its story is universal. Is there a bigger plot out there that causes our lives to intersect?

Afterwards Bass had the audience eating out of her hand as she described the process behind the film. “We cling to illusions to get by with life, but often they’re the things that hold us back,” she said of the film’s themes, adding that her own experience of love was like a horror movie.

Bass, who is known for her speculative and historical short stories and short films, is the founder of Jungle Jim, a local pulp fiction magazine. She has – under her pseudonym Constance Myburgh – been shortlisted for the Caine Prize for short fiction.

She left film school seven years ago and couldn’t believe she hadn’t yet made a feature. So she threw caution to the wind and – on a ridiculously low budget – birthed her debut.

It paid off in spades. Love the One You Love caught the eye of seasoned producer Steven Markovitz, who came on board. The film is sold out in Durban and is in competition for best local feature.

It’s part of a new wave of cinema here – one that, like the hardcore sugar daddy film The Two of Us is seeing young directors producing independent features on low budgets without relying on state funds or commercial demands.

“I needed to make a film to prove I can make a film to show the people who I need to finance my films,” she said.

I genuinely can’t wait for her next one – and that, she says, will either be about undead security guards or an all-female Western set in the Karoo.

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