Friday, 4 December 2009
Adapted from J.M. Coetzee’s acclaimed novel, this is an admirably complex film, in which director Steve Jacobs successfully presents a scenario with no easy solutions, but fails to tell a really compelling story. John Malkovich plays David, a South African university lecturer who is discovered carrying on an affair with a student and is forced to resign his post. Seemingly unrepentant, but accepting that he cannot stay in Cape Town, he decides to go and live with his estranged daughter Lucy (Jessica Haines) on her remote farm on the opposite side of the country. He begins settling down and trying to rebuild some kind of relationship with his daughter, but this fledgling peace is soon burst open by a brutal act of violence.
David is a puzzle, and difficult to even begin to try and understand; he behaves badly, but we are kept from simply hating him by Malkovich’s excellent performance. He gives very little away about David’s internal life, making him recognisably human, but such an impenetrable central character is tough to stay interested in, and while there are clearly deeper layers to David, Jacobs never lets us find them. Jacobs is interested in exploring some of contemporary South Africa’s biggest social problems though, and particularly through the character of Lucy, he very effectively shows the broken state that this nation is in. As often happens with literary adaptations, Jacobs introduces several themes and characters that are introduced but not fully developed, and the film is often a frustrating experience as a result.