20 August 1999 | tim_buk2
Lack of subtitles did not increase my understanding....
Fools' was another film shown as part of the Fespaco film festival held here in Ouagadougou in Feb 99. Set in South Africa in 1989, the story is about a middle-aged teacher working in a black township and how his life is slowly falling apart. He drinks too much, he is nearing divorce with his wife, and he tries to avoid being pressurised by his politically motivated acquaintances in order to have a quiet life. Worst of all, in a profound misreading of the situation and lack of judgement, he rapes one of his students who brings a gift round to his house to thank him for helping her get through her exams. She doesn't go to the police but takes her guilt and shame home to her family.
'Fools' has one of the most gratuitous scenes in the first few opening minutes I can recall; a young black couple making love on a train complete with clichéd stock shots of pistons pumping and orgasmic amounts of white steam being squirted into the black night air. The film, post orgasmically, rather lost its way for half an hour before getting back to the plot which then made its way unevenly along for the rest of the film.
One of the most telling and powerful scenes toward the end involved a big, fat, white Boer farmer whose old car is accidentally hit by a rock thrown by the headmaster who was trying to clear a trouble maker off his grounds during a school picnic. The Boer gets out and demands in front of the whole school what the hell is going on. The headmaster, who up to now has been a dominant and authoritarian figure, is suddenly very submissive towards the angry Boer and cowers in fear. The Boer takes a whip out of the car (handy for just this sort of situation) and the headmaster flees with the whole school leaving our teacher standing alone in the open ground facing the irate Boer. When the teacher does not respond to the Boer's questioning he starts whipping him savagely. The teacher offers no resistance to this unwarranted attack and starts to laugh maniacally at the Boer. The silent crowd draws strength from the teacher's stance and surrounds the Boer who cannot cope with the teacher's defiant reaction and sinks to the ground sobbing. The teacher walks away obviously wounded but still laughing with the Boer sitting on the ground and the crowd quietly watching him. End of scene.
Cut to new scene of teacher walking across fields. In my view this was a good example of a scene not being concluded properly. The strong Boer character was introduced but his fate was not concluded. One might conclude that his fate was to be left to one's imagination but visual clues such as rocks being dropped to the ground from the hand of students preclude the obvious nasty mob lynching. It seemed throughout the film that the director took the audience just so far, lacked the conviction for a conclusion and then moved on to something else leaving too many annoying loose ends.
Also this is the third film out of three (the other two being Rue Princesse' and Pièces d'identités') were there has been a scene about middle aged men visiting young prostitutes. Is this a coincidence that I have seen the only three films in the festival touching this theme or are African (male) directors obsessed with this subject?
The film had French subtitles as half the dialogue was in a South African language and the rest was in English and Afrikaans. But yet again we had a poor view due to an obstacle that blocked part of the very bottom of the screen, just where the subtitles were. This undoubtedly had a negative effect on my complete understanding of the dialogue. Because of this I feel I cannot give it a score lower than 5 much as I wanted to.