Director: Jurg Slabbert
Writer: Christiaan Boonzaier
Cast: Marlo Minnaar & Aletta Bezuidenhout
Running time: 18mins
Film festivals cost money to run – in fact they often struggle to break even. That makes granting fee waivers difficult. As a result, filmmakers who already struggle to have their voices heard are often further marginalised.
Movies told by artists from low-income backgrounds, opposition groups hit by censorship, or individuals in nations hit by international sanctions still need a platform. That’s why Indy Film Library’s Saturday Matinees are returning for a second season.
Over the next six weeks, the latest series of Saturday Matinees will showcase work from India, Iran, South Africa, and other places where monetary and legal constraints have prevented the free communication of political and social issues.
The first film in our free-to-view programme comes from Jurg Slabbert, a first-time filmmaker based in Cape Town. Aan/Af (literally Afrikaans for On/Off) is a film taking place in a claustrophobic block of flats, following a man trying his best to help a disorientated elderly neighbour. Most obviously, the film touches on the paradoxical brand of social alienation people are exposed to in the world’s largest cities – even as profit-driven urbanisation sees them packed in to smaller apartments, in closer proximity, the collapse of civil society and the social contract leave them more isolated than ever.
The story follows an exhausted man (Marlo Minnaar) trying to get some rest but determined to help the woman next door (Aletta Bezuidenhout) who has dementia, despite a language barrier that sees her become increasingly volatile. Both actors deserve high praise for their work here; Minnaar is clearly scared of how the situation might deteriorate at the drop of a hat – but he also manages to communicate a very human need to stay and help his distressed counterpart, whatever the risk. At the same time, Bezuidenhout is formidable as the woman flittering between disconnected strands of consciousness, at times sympathetic, before turning the performance on its head to become genuinely intimidating.
However, there is more than meets the eye to the relationship between our nameless protagonists. In the background, a television is blaring out an old black-and-white movie: Night of the Living Dead. It’s always a risk referencing a more widely-respected work in your own film, but the creators of Aan/Af seem to have pulled it off here. Rather than simply being inserted as a way to pick up ‘cultural credibility’ or for bit of cheap filler, due to the film’s status in the public domain, there seems to be a very pointed reason for the film’s inclusion, which Slabbert and writer Christiaan Boonzaier deserve credit for.
At the heart of George A. Romero’s success in the undead sub-genre is a very clear empathy with the ‘zombies’ – who, while being a very real threat, are never the actual villains of his films. There is a real sadness to many scenes featuring the undead, shuffling between places that ‘meant something to them’ without really knowing why – trying to sate old impulses they are no-longer in control of – while moaning, wheezing and whimpering. The fear that elicits from viewers is not just a fear of death, then, but fear of a continued existence without all the faculties and capacities that make us us. It makes the afflicted more than a ‘monster’ – it makes them an empathetic and tragic embodiment of one of our deepest fears.
In the film’s conclusion, it becomes increasingly apparent why clips from the Dead Trilogy have cropped up here, and why Minnaar’s reluctant neighbour is so desperate to help Bezuidenhout. While the delivery of that realisation might be a little hasty, and at times finds itself caught between abstract and more concrete styles of delivery, it packs a punch that will leave you thinking and feeling for days after its final credits roll. That makes it a wonderful starting point for our second run of Saturday Matinees.
The film will be available to view for free in full from 09:00 UK time on Saturday the 4th of February, until the end of the weekend, via our Saturday Matinees theatre page. As the film is still trying to gain access to other festivals, the page is password protected. Use the code IFLMATINEE2324 to access the film.
Stay tuned for another film next week!