Review – Fynbos: Mystery within a mystery

2012-07-23 11:36

With frowns on foreheads, a pensive and divided audience left the premiere screening of Fynbos at the Durban International Film Festival last night.

It’s a mystery drama about a missing person that offers numerous riddles and clues, yet stubbornly refuses to provide answers by the time it ends.

The audience is asked to reach its own conclusions.

And just that fact, an offering that cuts across the grain of film conventions, gets a thumbs up from me – but I like my films more difficult.

I like them to linger in my consciousness afterwards.

Those in the audience that prefer a traditional, structured, driving narrative in their film found it unrewarding, slight and self-indulgent.

Shot in a glass house designed by local architect Sarah Calburn on a sweeping landscape in the Western Cape, Fynbos is the story of a woman who disappears.

Meryl (played with compelling confusion by Jessica Haines) is living in a suffocating, loveless marriage to Richard (Warrick Grier), a property developer who has built this dream home but must now sell it before it’s fully complete or face bankruptcy.

They are spending the weekend with prospective buyer Anne (Susan Danford), her brother and a young couple who have been house sitting and communing with nature.

Moving past informal settlements in fancy cars, the privileged characters in Fynbos are dislocated from humanity, from one another and also from nature.

Here in the glass house they are trying to re-engage but end up splintering into a million little pieces.

They are counterpointed by a policewoman, Toni, the only character in the film who is in touch with herself and in control of the situation.

She’s played with assurance and compassion by Sthandiwe Kgoroge in her feature debut. Kgoroge steals the show.

As the characters venture into the harsh landscape around them they must redefine their identities in relation to it.

This is a common theme in the new batch of local films on offer in Durban – the place of man in the natural world.

It was introduced in Elelwani on the opening night, examined in Sleeper’s Wake the next night and then picked up again in Fynbos.

Developed by Greek couple Eleni Asvesta and Harry Patramanis, Fynbos is a co-production that tries to be truly collaborative – rehearsing with the cast until a final draft of the script emerged.

Perhaps the problems with the film – a stubborn lack of three-dimensional characters and a plot that threatens to undermine itself and alienate the audience – come from too much thinking and too much workshopping.

In my opinion they’re more than made up for by its visual beauty, its experiments with genre and its daring to be unique.

As low budget debuts go, Fynbos achieves an excellence that’s rare in local cinema.

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