Dubbed the South African ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, ‘Durban Poison’ is a moody noir romance set among South Africa’s marginalised white underclass, which will be screened at the BFI London Film Festival this week.
There are four South African films being screened at this year’s London Film Festival: Felix, a drama about a Zulu lad who wants to become a jazz musician, Of Good Report, about a paedophile school teacher that was banned on the night of its opening screening at the Durban International Film Festival, Image Gallery, a short in the African First Shorts, and one that stands on its own in South African filmmaking, Durban Poison.
Dubbed the South African Bonnie and Clyde, Durban Poison is a moody and touching noir romance set among the country’s marginalised white underclass made by writer/director Andrew Worsdale.
Written 27 years after his controversial UCLA thesis film Shot Down was banned in South Africa and went on to festival acclaim becoming ‘South Africa’s definitive cult film of the 1980s’ Worsdale, 50, returns nearly three decades later with a thrilling and melancholic road movie inspired by a true story of a pair of outlaw KwaZulu-Natal lovers.
Durban Poison is the story of 20-year-old streetwalker and party hostess Joline, who comes from a background that has made her tougher than any man. Sexy and manipulative, she gets anything she wants. Her lover is Piet, a 38-year-old construction worker. Hardened after a third of his life spent behind bars, he’s a loser, maybe even weak, but filled with a bravado that makes him behave like a real mover and shaker in the underworld.
In their passion and self-destruction they become serial killers, murdering four people in a game of sex for money. Moving between the present and the past as a police investigation tries to uncover the truth behind the murders, the film becomes a tale of a failed but passionate romance, of truth and lies, of memory and regret. It also looks at South Africa’s chauvinist, aggressive macho culture and tells the story of a woman who rebels against it.
“The origins of Durban Poison lie in the fact that Shot Down was a kind of experimental movie,” says Worsdale, who will be in London to introduce the film. “I wanted to make a so-called ‘normal’ movie — almost like an Australian film like Chopper or Romper Stomper — thrillers that just happened to have very strongly drawn Oz characters and I was reading James Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice) and watching noir movies. But in 1988, the movie fell through for several reasons — money, mainly — but significantly the fact that the political situation was getting even more tense and vivid meant that no one saw the relevance of making a film about these white outcasts when the country was falling apart.”
“My circle and myself at the time were idealists and wanted to be part of the overthrowing of the regime and be part of a new South Africa. We were all living in Yeoville, Johannesburg, then which, in itself was some kind of microcosm of a new South Africa.”
Worsdale was, however, to leave South Africa to work in film and documentaries for the BBC and Channel 4 in the UK before returning home in 1995. “Durban Poison was always with me as it’s a strong cinematic story,” he says. “Outlaw lovers on the run. On my return to South Africa I tried to resurrect the project and yet again more drafts were written. I was working as a movie critic for the Mail and Guardian to pay the rent, I was married and father of a young son.
But that was also when my drinking really, really took hold and I basically drank myself out of being a film director of any sort. I could just sort of scrape by as a critic but ended up being fired, creating scenes at previews and festivals and became generally rowdy and slid into a hell that led to several rehabs, a divorce, accidents, falls, broken jaws, ribs, and many, many missed deadlines.”
He finally kicked the booze and two Decembers ago his buddy, film producer Diony Kempen, who was setting up The Karoo Film Company with best-selling author Deon Meyer, said he would like to help Worsdale make Durban Poison.
“The ‘punchline’ of this long story, is that when the opportunity finally came to shoot the movie in November last year I was so aware of the karma, the miracle of it, and was continually giving thanks for the way it finally came to be. I firmly believe that the film is way, way better than it ever could have been in the previous years — a long haul, yeah, but worth every bit of pain!”
Durban Poison won the Best South African Feature Film at the Durban International Film Festival in July.
Starring Brandon Auret, Cara Roberts, Gys de Villiers, Marcel van Heerden, Danny Keogh and Frank Opperman as Stoffel, it plays in the LFF at The Ritzy, Brixton on 10 Oct at 20:45 and on 11 Oct at Hackney Picture House at 18:00.
Tel: 020 7928 3232 between 09.30- 20.30
In person : BFI Southbank Office 11.30-2-.30