Xhosa psycho thriller ‘Of Good

Xhosa psycho thriller ‘Of Good Report’ a homage to classic film noir

Screening in London this week, ‘Of Good Report’ is a South African homage to film ‘noir’ that tells the story of Little Red Riding Hood from the wolf’s perspective.

Xhosa psycho thriller ‘Of Good

Of Good Report, one of three South African films in competition at the London International Film Festival, came to town with a buzz long before it was screened to festival audiences.

A tough film about an obsessive paedophile school teacher, it had been banned on the night of its opening screening at the Durban International Film Festival this year. And having seen it, one can see why those censors were perplexed and panicked.

As the first mainstream film banned in the new South Africa, this ruling triggered unprecedented international media coverage of a South African film and, following an outcry of industry professionals, and an urgent appeal by both the festival organizers and the film’s producers, the independent Appeals Tribunal overturned the ruling and classified the film with a 16 year age restriction.

While the Board asserted that the ruling had nothing to do with the artistic merit of the picture, it was argued that the Classification Committee (who discontinued their viewing and made an outright decision just 28 minutes into the film) had not viewed the picture in the context of the narrative.

Of Good Report is a hard-hitting Xhosa urban psycho/romantic drama that is exciting, disturbing and fascinatingly revealing. Shot in black and white in Somerset East in the Eastern Cape and crisply directed by Jahmil XT Qubeka (Small Town Called Descent), Mothusi Magano (Tsotsi) plays a newly recruited high school teacher seemingly of ‘good report’.

It has been almost a year since Parker Sithole, a victim of (undiagnosed) post-war stress pathology, made the long arduous journey to a sleepy rural town to take up his new position as a substitute teacher. He is welcomed into the teaching community for he is an educator who comes ‘of good report’ but is a marked social misfit.

He meets the sexually charged Nolitha (played by Petronella Tshuma) at a local bar and after a brief illicit sexual encounter, finds out that she is an under-age pupil in his class. Obsession, shameful lust and murder follow.

I spoke to Ciskei-bred Qubeka, in London for the festival, about his ballsy film. “It is a South African homage to film ‘noir’ that tells the story of Little Red Riding Hood from the wolf’s perspective,” an unapologetic Qubeka, 34, explains. “It is a psycho thriller.”

“A lot of relevant social issues come into play in the story. I try not to preach because entertainment is the central driving force of a genre film like this but gender-based violence in South Africa is at a very high rate. It wanted to tell it like it is. There is a lot of misogynist recklessness in the film and I felt I had a bit of insight into how the man’s mind worked,” says Qubeka, who works in modern commercial making when not on a feature film project. “I grew up in a patriarchal home. People around me did that sort of thing and it was always the other person’s fault. In this case teachers are supposed to be custodians of society.

“As a kid I was raised on American cinema and my influences are directors like Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and John McNaughton who made Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer, Sam Peckinpah. I shot it in black and white as an homage to the old classics.

Shooting in black and white enabled us to create this realistic story in this real world, but with all the heightened drama and stakes that are brought to the fore by eschewing colour. By reducing everything to black, white, and grey we were able to peel back the veneer of the character and plunge into Parker’s subconscious.

“In a very real way we also make unconscious associations with films such as Psycho and other black and white classics. Just as Mothusi Magano’s performance is so much more powerful because we never see him speak, the black and white imagery is so much more powerful because we never see any colour.”

The film is eerily enhanced by the soundtrack, which is not an original score but an intense music score made from composer Philip Miller’s musical library in collaboration with the artist William Kentridge.

*Of Good Report is screened at LFF on Mon 14 November at 20.45 at Vue 5 West End and Tues 15 Nov at 18.15 at Ritzy, Brixton.

Booking online: www.bfi.org.uk/lff

Tel: 020 7928 3232.

It also opens the Film Africa Festival at the Hackney Picturehouse in London on 1 November.