ON THE WIRE (1990) [Feature]

UK (MIFF 1991 )
Director: Elaine Proctor

This impressive first feature by South African-horn Elaine Proctor is one of the most effective and intelligent films yet to deal with racism in South Africa. Its determination to explore the root causes of apartheid (rather than dwell on surface dramas and canonise white heroes) sets it apart from recent big-budget productions superficially exploring the same terrain.

Using sexuality as a metaphor for this reality, Proctor skillfully reveals, little by little, the tragedy of Wouter, a white Afrikaaner tainted by the sexual violence he has witnessed (and probably participated in) while on patrol with the South African Defence Force. A stoic figure from a strict Calvinist community where sexual repression, tacit racism and religious fervour are commonplace, Wouter runs a rural property inherited from his parents, and still served by the black maid who was his childhood nanny. His wife, played with frightening conviction by Aletta Bezuidenhout, becomes the target of his increasingly pyschotic behaviour.

The disastrous consequences of his bringing a residue of violence and contempt back to his home and family are carefully and thoughtfully developed. While gradually loading all the bases, Proctor manages to keep the lid on what could have become an overblown melodrama. Instead she opts for an austere approach, building to a prophetic conclusion. The film is a deliberately unsettling experience in the way it approaches the crime of apartheid, as it digs down to the root causes of the horror to reveal a far more lethal poison.

On The Wire shows remarkable maturity on the part of writer/director Elaine Proctor, who was only 26 when the film was made. What's more, it's an ultra low-budget student production made as Proctor's graduation film from the National Film and Television School, with additional funding raised from a variety of aid-agencies and private supporters. (T.B.)

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