Scrabble and Calvinism in a time of fear

FAMILY trinity blues, with Georgina Thompson, Gerben Kamper and Rondo Mpiti. Photograph by Mpendulo Troy Myeni.

A RASH OF grim and oft hilarious issues that have grown out of the ongoing pandemic come under the sophisticated loupe of Mpendulo Troy Myeni, in Let Me Out, a South African short film made with a cell phone and released on youtube. It’s a testament to the skill and the fire in the belly of South African young filmmakers, but also it’s a vehicle that offers very incisive and strong reflections on what it is to exist in a state of relentless fear.

With a storyline focused on Sethu (Rondo Mpiti) a mysterious young woman ensconced in blue terry cloth, the work offers up an ambiguity from the get-go. And it’s an ambiguity which chills and thrills you from conventional terror to heightened guffaws, directly from the gut. Gerben Kamper and Georgina Thompson feature in this work with a ramped up theatricality which is utterly delicious. They are like Kabuki performers in their expressions of uber-emphasised horror and fear, dressed as they are in soiled pyjamas, de rigueur in the cut and thrust of lockdown necessities, and yet, rather than feeling Japanese in their ethos, they make you think of the 1930 painting by Grant Wood, entitled American Gothic, but in Afrikaans.

On some levels, the story itself, unravelling in a space of just over 20 minutes has a couple of red herrings, involving what you may see as symbolism, retrospectively. It evokes the recent local film Tokoloshe, in this regard. All is forgiven, however, in the face of the faux Scrabble game in the centre of the work. Glibly ignoring the rules of Scrabble proper, the game becomes a device for malice and madness, which evokes the almost scary improvisation in scenes from the Rocky Horror Show or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where convention is tossed to the wind, and camera angles make everyone seem a little scarier and shriller than they might otherwise be.

Let Me Out is a tale of generic war and subterfuge, masturbation and newspapers on the windows, one which reflects on what would happen in an ongoing pandemic with no respite. And the filmmakers behind this project take no prisoners in their reflection on what it means to be in lockdown, but also the meaning of loss and kindness, fear and relief from fear. It’s another of those coronavirus gems – like Vincent Mantsoe’s dance piece Cut, to materialise on the cultural sphere and deserves as much attention as it can garner.

  • Let Me Out is a short film made on an iPhone, directed and photographed by Mpendulo Troy Myeni. It features Lorenzo Dampies, Gerben Kamper, Rondo Mpiti, Nqabenhle Fortune Myeni, Mbuyiselo Nqodi, Ayanda Stellenberg and Georgina Thompson. Produced by Meta Studios, it is edited by Carolise Myburgh and is available on youtube.

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