BEAUFORT WEST. A Western Cape town that like many others in the dusty interior of South Africa, is one that 21st values seem to have left behind. It’s dry in so many ways, and prospects of life for a 24-year-old who is in the ignominious situation of being breadwinner because her father drinks too much, plugs the tale with considerable sadness. This is the context of Farewell Ella Bella, the first full length film from the pen of Lwazi Mvusi, who has distinguished herself in writing for television.
It’s a tale that fits into the mythic understanding of hero, and one that uses the metaphor of a long road, travelled with Neo (Sello Maake Ka-Ncube) a fair godfather well met, daddy’s ashes in a vase, and the prospect of new adventures, for young Ella (Jay Anstey).
And while the work initially has the kind of unbridled happy-go-lucky idiosyncrasy that made Percy Adlon’s 1987 film Bagdad Cafe emblematic, and gives voice to the kind of characters that pop out of the social landscape in this context, it hasn’t the maturity of vision to carry itself beyond the long and lumpen road, and you leave it, at the end, feeling unfulfilled.
Having said that, and jostling around a couple of red herrings in the plot, there is an achingly vulnerable cameo by Lionel Newton in the role of the dear old flawed dad, and Chantal Stanfield’s presence as Sheri, who works with Ella and tries to inject a modicum of courage into her outlook offers a fresh burst of energy. The vulnerability of Marge, the character played by Michelle Douglas in a roadside B-and-B offers a poignant, yet funny gloss on the universality of being let down, as it presents insights into political bias and judgement. And while Anstey seems directed to sometimes emote too enthusiastically and belies the 24 years of her character, there’s an interesting energy between her and Maake Ka-Ncube that works.
While the writing sometimes teeters on the side of the obvious, and dialogue is occasionally wooden, it is the cinematography that hurts this project most of all. Too often, it brings you up so close to the characters that you lose any sense of coherence or context, leaving the piece wanting in both the overstatement and understatement departments.
It’s a classic concept of a story framed against the values of democratic South Africa. Containing a veritable Pandora’s box of local idiosyncrasy and potential, this work as an entity just doesn’t push hard enough in exposing how weird we as South Africans can be, as it doesn’t pay enough attention to detail, closure and mystery.
- Farewell Ella Bella is directed by Lwazi Mvusi and features a cast headed by Jay Anstey, Mary-Anne Barlow, Katlego Danke, Michelle Douglas, Sello Maake Ka-Ncube, Noluthando Meje, Lionel Newton and Chantal Stanfield. It is written by Lwazi Mvusi. Produced by Tsholo Mashile, it features creative input by Chris Letcher and Alice Phoebe Lou (music), Amelia Henning (cinematography) and Renier van Niekerk (sound effects). Release date: August 17 2018.