DIARY: at the movies (Of Good Report) – By Magnus Taylor
To The Hackney Picturehouse on Friday night for the launch of Film Africa to see Jahmil T.Quebeka’s “˜Of Good Report’ – a subversive, monochrome peep show into the life of a South African killer.
Quebeka’s film is at times sickeningly violent and uncomfortably sexually explicit – a darkly comic exploration of the predatory “˜wolf’ the director sees as lurking within all men.
The film follows Parker – an itinerant teacher with a murky past in the South African army (described in his reference as being “˜of good report’) – who starts working at a rural South African school, living in a tin-roofed shack owned by a distrusting matriarch and her grandson. Parker encounters a seductive young woman (Nolitha) in a local drinking den and starts a passionate relationship with her before discovering that she is one of his students.
This does not put him off continuing his illicit affair. Nolitha becomes pregnant and has an abortion, returning to class 6 months later. She then rejects Parker, which precipitates his decent into paranoia, murderous jealousy and a calculated attempt to dispose of a corpse.
Parker’s crime is eventually discovered by a local police officer, but he manages to escape her clutches and at the finale is seen stumbling to freedom and more opportunities for employment and lupine satisfaction in South Africa’s chaotic neighbour, Zimbabwe.
Whilst themes of misogyny and violence against women are strong, the film is about more than just this – it is definitely no “˜agenda’ piece solely made with the intention of highlighting a particular “˜issue’.
It is, to a greater or lesser degree, a warped love story (in the vein of Nabokov’s Lolitha – openly referenced in the female lead, who suffers a more grisly ending than her almost namesake), a vision of life at the margins of a violent society and an indictment of the South African educational system.
Whilst the local context is strong, the broad narrative could be shifted to South Korea or South London and work almost as well.
That “˜Of Good Report’ received such a positive reception (gauged by my unscientific post-screening straw-poll) is both testament to the seriousness of it as a piece of drama, and a festival audience willing to be open minded about a movie that might not be to all tastes (irrespective of its obvious quality).
Off to the The Ritzy tonight to see Ousmane Sembene’s classic “˜Black Girl’ – “[a] searing account of the isolation of a young black domestic servant working in Antibes, and the first feature to be produced and directed by an African.”
Magnus Taylor is Editor of African Arguments.