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The Satyr of Springbok Heights

The Satyr of Springbok Heights > Out In Africa Film Festival

by Libby Allen / 06.09.2009

If David Lynch and Herman Charles Bosman somehow bore a child, who made it to adulthood and got into filmmaking, he would be Robert Silke and his ‘fictional documentary’, The Satyr of Springbok Heights.

It’s difficult to resist a handful of references: Lynch-like edit and storyline, where the surreal is jammed right up against the mundane and the plot unfolds in cycles of sympathetic and then jarring storytelling. It’s a little like South Africa’s own Million Dollar Hotel. Or how I imagine the characters from Nataniel’s weird anecdotal stage shows to appear on film; a tragic little urban fairytale – ‘little’ not because the film deserves any condescension but because its concern is the small stories of people mainstream society would rather not see. They are not attractive characters, the residents of Springbok Heights. They are desperate and dysfunctional and sad. And housing them is the film’s lead, the building itself, this beautiful towering shell in which the piece plays out. Springbok Heights, its inhabitants and stories, do not really exist, but the location and inspiration for the film is a block in Cape Town called Holyrood, which Silke calls home. The characters are part fantasy, part contruct of Holyrood’s residents over the years and, he admits, part Silke himself. It is in short a story about fear; about people seeking refuge in and being defined by their environments. It is about suspicion and group psyche and truth.

But let me get to the point: two storylines – one where real-life experts discuss the building and its inhabitants (stand-out is Sunday Times journalist Lin Sampson, who appears like some academic freak caricature) and another, where the residents discuss their lives in the building. Godfrey Johnson’s playing of Wouter Malan, never without safari suit or lecherous look toward young boys, is monstrous and excellent, but the performances overall are too stagey, too self-conscious in their desire to be funny or dysfunctional – particularly for a mockumentary which requires conviction in its presentation of the ridiculous. It all gets a little much, and added to these performances is the Satyr itself, which is a gimmick too far for me and felt a little like force-fed metaphor.

Regardless, I liked the film. It is weird and beautiful and disturbing. Sean Michau’s score is brilliant and directs such emotion and empathy to the characters and their home. The colour and angles and stylistic tinkering make a clear distinction between real and imagined near impossible. Even where the film is flawed, it deserves pardon because it seems to be an imperfection in line with the content itself.

Screens as part of the Out In Africa Film Festival
JHB Wed 9th / 6.45pm
CT Sun 13th / 5pm + GUESTS ♥ Tues 15th / 8.45pm + GUESTS

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