A cinematic collision of storytelling and action

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Martorell, a Frenchman based in Los Angeles, co-wrote the script with Siphosethu Tshapu and Sean Cameron Michael. Photo: Supplied
Martorell, a Frenchman based in Los Angeles, co-wrote the script with Siphosethu Tshapu and Sean Cameron Michael. Photo: Supplied


A few months ago, Netflix released yet another local production – this time an action thriller called The Collision.

It takes place over one day, during which a husband and wife must save their daughter from a dangerous crime boss in Johannesburg. The crime boss is played by Vuyo Dabula. The film also stars Langley Kirkwood, Tessa Jubber, Mpho Sebeng and Siphesihle Vazi.

“We couldn’t dream of better reception.” The film’s director, Fabien Martorell says:

The Collision was on Netflix’s worldwide top 10 for two consecutive weeks and also on the top 10 in 64 countries.

He is excited and proud of this, as he feels that the film explores important themes and was a challenging one to make.

“It was shot on location in just 18 days, during the pandemic, with regular power outages and on quite a small budget. However, most of all, we’re proud to have made an African story for the world to see. I received many messages from viewers all over the globe – the US, France, Brazil and elsewhere – who were moved by the film and hoped it would help make the world a better place.”

Martorell, a Frenchman based in Los Angeles, co-wrote the script with Siphosethu Tshapu and Sean Cameron Michael, both South Africans who added their own visions and input about their country.

“Not being from South Africa allowed me to bring a fresh vision of the sociopolitical context in the country, without being judgemental. The script and its structure are different from what people are used to watching. It’s a multiplot story, with multiple characters. We wanted to create a mosaic of the country, with characters who were born and raised in South Africa.”

The 50-year-old says this resulted in an intensely emotional and complex story about people of different ages, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.

Making the film was also challenging because of the need to have the lives of the characters blend.

“We wanted the story, the themes and the conflicts to be very relevant to everyone living in South Africa, as well as to the world in general, emphasising the fear of the other. Additionally, I talked to each of the actors about their roles, how their characters would feel, react or what they’d say in certain circumstances, and about their relationships with the other characters.”

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The cast members shared with Martorell the nuances of their cultures and the reality of the past and present sociopolitical context, in order to avoid stereotypical portrayals.

“We believe that the characters are real South African characters and that their stories are part of their everyday lives,” says Martorell.

Touching on the central motifs, he adds: “This story means a lot to me because of its message. It’s a drama/thriller that explores hard-hitting relevant themes such as racism and xenophobia. It’s a film about freedom and we raised the question: Is everyone really free in South Africa today?”

Martorell gave careful consideration to selecting the cast before production commenced.

“I already knew the work of some of the actors and who would be great for specific roles.” He said:

I contacted some of them before production and then we completed selecting the cast with our casting director.

“I was amazed by the level of acting in South Africa.”

He recalls one incident on set as the cast and crew went about shooting one of the most pivotal scenes in the movie.

“We ran out of time. We were filming on location and setting up the scene took longer than expected for some departments, so the special effects crew and the stuntmen couldn’t stay any longer to do it. The scene involved some gunshots and they needed more time, which I understood.”

So Martorell took the actors, cinematographers and make-up artists aside to explain the situation and decided to do the scene without the special effects crew and stunts.

“They all agreed. I called for ‘action’ and every time there was a gunshot, I called for a pause so that the make-up artists could run to the actor being shot and put blood on his chest. Then I resumed the action. It was challenging, but very exciting. We did this for two or three hours and were all very happy with the result on the screen.”

He was able to capture Johannesburg gracefully, showing its visually striking structure, but also depicting it as a large concrete cage in which those inside are trapped by the life the city forces one to live.

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“Johannesburg’s a very cinematic city and I somehow compared it with Los Angeles. I wanted to shoot on location, since Johannesburg itself is one of the main characters. I combined hyperrealistic décor and aestheticism to represent it as a ‘giant jail’, where all the characters were captives, but also trapped in their own emotions.

“To do so, I used an oppressive structure seen through geometrical and symmetrical shapes (horizontal walls, electric fences, iron bars, doors and windows), the light and very specific colours and textures.”

Martorell is working with his partner Neo Baloyi on two crime movies that will also be shot in Johannesburg. He also has a few other projects under way in the US.

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