Review – Gog’ Helen: Gogo from hell

2012-07-22 17:17

Gog’ Helen is an insanely ribald new South African comedy about Helen and Agnes – a shack-dwelling granny and her prostitute granddaughter played by Lillian Dube and Kagiso Rakosa – who go gangster in an attempt to retrieve the old lady’s life savings that have been mistakenly thrown away.

They’re pursued by a nasty taxi driver, an abusive pimp, his evil brother and a lunatic henchman. As the body count rose on the screen at the film’s premiere at the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF), so did the laughs and cheers from the audience. The comedy, say its fans, speaks to normal South Africans in a language they understand. It’s risqué and rude, silly and homegrown – and just about the worst local feature I’ve ever had to sit through.

Directed by Adze Ugah on a shoestring budget and shot in just 10 days, Gog’ Helen is as untidily put together as it is offensive to women. The shots are random, the score is patchy and the translation riddled with spelling mistakes.

How this half-baked piece of slapstick made it into competition at the DIFF is a mystery to me. It can only be because of a political agenda to push local, township stories. The decision not only does a disservice to the film but to the industry at large. Of course the opening night crowd cheered, laughed and lavished praise – they always do, then go away and bitch about the film behind its back.

The total lack of critical examination at these Durban openings is another disservice being dished out on a nightly basis here.

Young Nigerian director Ugah cut his teeth on South African TV drama and, with Gog’ Helen, brings the worst of our bad production habits to the big screen.

His script seems almost entirely unchecked, allowing itself to live out lurid fantasies of prostitute sex – once again uncomfortably objectifying women’s bodies – and glorifying murder. Lighten up. It’s just a comedy? In a country that kills lesbians and rapes its women with impunity I struggle to just shrug, smile and walk away.

We have, in recent years, started seeing African revisions of exploitation flicks – like the exceptional Viva Riva! – that have managed to claim gratuitous sex and violence and spin exciting new genres from it. But Gog’ Helen offers nothing new. It just entrenches the stereotypes.

One thing we do not suffer from in South Africa is a shortage of acting talent and people love ma Lillian Dube, she’s a national treasure. I have no doubt that the film will get bums on seats – Leon Schuster does and his stuff’s just as dodgy.

“Normal” South Africans will probably laugh at the ludicrous crime spree on the screens because at least it’s about “normal” South Africans and everyone seems to find it hugely funny every time an old lady uses the F-word or a pimp rolls his eyes ridiculously in the middle of a job.

At best, Gog’ Helen offers a Nollywood-style solution to the problems around financing new features in South Africa – make them cheap and quick, bump up output and get the industry working.

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