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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Little One

I'm still waiting for this to be posted at Channel 24 but I figured I might as well put it up here and add the link later. Not that the movie is particular worth it, mind you.

What it's about

When Pauline (Lindiwe Ndlovu), a poor, middle aged woman, finds a brutally raped and barely alive young girl in a field next to her house, she soon finds herself becoming more and more involved in the life of the child.

What we thought

Little One is a genuinely well-intentioned, good-hearted film about a poverty stricken woman who overcomes her own debilitating problems to help the young victim of a horrific crime. Unfortunately, good intentions do not a good film make and, for all that I want to sing its praises and for all that it was in fact South Africa's entry into the Best Foreign Language Film category at last year's Academy Awards, it simply isn't a very good film.

Along with its good intentions and big heart, Little One also has some perfectly decent acting (especially since most of the actors are first timers), some often striking cinematography and a short enough running time to prevent it from ever overstaying its welcome - so what went wrong? The answer, confusingly enough, lies in its writer/ director Darrell Roodt, Not only is Roodt a filmmaking veteran responsible for some of the most critically acclaimed South African films ever, but he is one of the few still-native South African filmmakers to have worked with major international stars and to have received major accolades overseas. So I ask again, what went wrong?

Roodt has written 17 films to date and directed nearly double that but Little One's biggest failure is that is comes across as the work of someone just out of film school who is still trying to figure out how to put together a coherent narrative, while flushing out his worst tendencies in a self-funded debut never really intended for public consumption. It is, in short, an amateurish film by a writer/ director who is anything but.

To be fair, Roodt's direction is mostly OK as Little One is mostly competently put together on a technical level, but the same certainly can't be said about the clunky, frankly fairly horrible writing that is so bad it even affects the fluidity of his direction. The plot itself is pretty good and is undoubtedly all too tragically topical, but the execution falls flat at every turn.

The characterization is not so much non-existent, as it is embarrassingly cartoony with the central character's husband suffering the most as his transformation from demonic dick head to caring hubby does first time actor, Luzuko Nqeto, no favours at all and left me wondering if I had blacked out for twenty minutes or if someone had exorcised a whole section from the film. It's terrible stuff and it robs the film of all the credibility that its subject matter desperately requires.

Mind you, credibility goes out the window the minute the first line of dialogue is spoken. I do wonder – and it would explain a lot – if something was lost in translation as the script went from an English-speaking writer to Zulu actors to being translated back into English for the subtitles. I simply can't believe that the dialogue that is printed out in the film's English subtitles came from the pen of someone who has been honing his craft for no less than three decades.

As it is, the dialogue as presented in the subtitles is the sort that even latter day George Lucas would be too embarrassed to put his name to. “Stilted” doesn't even begin to cover it as not a single conversation in the entire film comes across as authentic. Indeed, the dialogue in the film plays out like the sort of thing a grade 6 student would be assigned to write for a school play designed to educate his/ her fellow students about whatever timely topical issue is doing the rounds at the time.

Little One is simply a terribly misjudged mess, but I am more than willing to give it every benefit of the doubt to explain what went wrong – there just must be some sort of extenuating circumstance to explain how badly it turned out. I really don't want to believe that the dialogue was intended to be this shoddy and the characterization this unbelievable.

I don't, for what it's worth, particularly care that the film is South African because, heaven knows, it would take a far bigger man than me to defend some of the unwatchable turkeys that this country's film industry churns out on a regular basis, but a film this well-intentioned and with this kind of talent behind it simply should not be this bad. And yet it is. Seriously, what happened?

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