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Long Street

2010-10-14 14:56
What it's about:

Set in Cape Town, the film is a closely rendered portrait of the fragile relationship between recovering drug addict Sia (Sannie Fox) and her mother Maria (Roberta Fox). When Sia is thrown out of rehab, she has to return to her mother's home. The two women have long stopped trusting each other, and their relationship is a simmering sea of anger and disappointment. At the same time, Sia's father Wesley (David Butler) is suffering from writer's block and has a deep desire to reconcile with his daughter and estranged wife, but cannot find a way to express himself.

What we thought:

When it came to casting his latest movie, essentially a love letter to his hometown, Revel Fox took the bold and risky move of casting his wife Roberta and daughter Sannie in the lead roles. To his (and more importantly, the movie's) credit, it's a move that's paid off, but not without its own set of problems.

It's hard to extricate the fact from the fiction of Long Street. Like Sannie herself, Sia is a talented musician with a dark past. Even Sannie's former band Mama Know Nothing make an appearance in the film as the aggrieved group still dealing with the fallout of Sia's addictions. And the troubling scenes of discord between mother and daughter play so truthfully, they make Long Street strangely difficult to watch, like we're invading the very private, very raw experiences of people in flux. Fox toes precariously close to the line between truth and an unsettling sense of meta-storytelling, that makes the movie all the more powerful in its ability to get under its audience's skin.

There's lots of pain and unspoken grief permeating this story, and it's in the moments of silence and solace that the film feels honest. But that doesn't really make for a very engaging film and so we're launched into a series of awkward and unsettling scenes with Sia once again getting involved with her junkie ex-boyfriend. There's some business with a freelance photographer who takes portraits of musicians and captures the real Cape Town by interacting with street kids, giving them money in exchange for the chance to capture the realities of their life. It's the sole bit of social responsibility in the film that seems at odds with what unfolds around it.

With so much tension and disillusionment between mother and daughter, Sia finds herself inexorably drawn towards a Zulu singer, Andiswa (played with a quiet strength by the late Busi Mhlongo) who is meant to be a spiritual guide possessed of some kind of mythical Earth Mother wisdom that will somehow cut through Sia's crap and bring her closer to her mother. It's a hokey, cliche device that never really pays off, but the sheer magnetism of Mhlongo's presence, who was dying of cancer at the time of filming, elevates her rather meandering scenes somewhat.

David Butler gets relegated to a few scenes as another artist who's lost his mojo and finds respite in alcohol and the attentions of a sexy bartender. What his purpose in the story is is difficult to establish. He could easily have been cut out of the film entirely.

And then there's the music. All recorded live, there's no escaping the rush brought on by just how alive Long Street feels when Andiswa or Sia are seen at their best - performing their anguished songs by themselves or to a room full of people, it's when Long Street feels most alive.

When all the moody posturing has been said and done, Long Street is a strong story in search of a film that can do it justice. The core actors bring a depth to it that feels absent elsewhere and I can't shake the feeling that the title of the movie is misleading and perhaps born out of another incarnation of the script. Nothing ever happens there, except a few shots of Sia sullenly walking along the it.

Fox and family have burrowed deep, that much is clear, only they seem to have left their audience behind. There's very little pay-off here for anyone not directly involved in the film itself, and no-one wants that from a movie.

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A complex, difficult film that makes the most of its considerable strengths while faltering on every other note.

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