(1970) JANS RAUTENBACHSPOILER ALERT
Allegedly autobiographical in tone, this was South Africa’s first film in the avant-garde genre, one of its’ very few horror films and also its’ first black comedy. It is now known to be an allegory about the South African situation in the 1970’s – showing said situation and the country’s inhabitants in the mileu of a home for the insane whose inmates’ lives are flipped by the arrival of a catatonic, mute mathematics professor, the “angel of discord”, as he is referred to by one of the loonies. Among this merry little band, we find a jilted bride (Hermien Dommisse) whose wedding portrait depicts her holding the hand of a faceless man, a knife wielding nymphomaniac with Bible thumping parents (Katinka Heyns), an ex Ossewabrandwag soldier with an uncanny resemblance to John Vorster (Don Leonard), a judge who went mad after his daughter’s killer was let off scot free (Jacques Loots) and a psychotic woman (Jill Kirkland) who continously writes unsent letters to her dead daughter.
The seemingly mad and mother fixated Jannie Pienaar (supposedly based both on director Jans Rautenbach’s treatment by the critics, some of the more sensitive sections of the South African community after the release of Katrina and Rautenbach’s experiences as a clinical psychologist) finds himself both restored to life because of two major factors: a love triangle which involves him and two of the inmates and the horrific finale when, on the suicide of one of those inmates, Jannie is condemned to death by hanging.
One would have to go very far back or far forward into the future of the South African film industry’s history to find a film as horrific, comic (yes, it is very funny in parts) and perfect as this, with brooding photography (courtesy David Dunn~ Yarker and Koos Roets) an eerie credits puppet show in which the spectre of death intrudes and is frightened away, haunting music by Sam Sklair and oppressive, claustrophobic set and art design. Starring Cobus Rossouw, Jill Kirkland, Hermien Dommisse, Phillip Swanepoel, Katinka Heyns, Don Leonard, Lourens Schultz, Patrick Mynhardt, Bettie Botha, George Pearce and Jacques Loots.