CITY PRESS REVIEW: The ghost of Tess’ past

2017-02-26 06:00

Johannesburg - Afrikaans-language film Tess is the story of a sex worker in the Cape named Tess (Christia Visser) who has her life turned upside down when a condom breaks and she falls pregnant. Besides the burden of her haunting childhood and addiction to painkillers, which she downs with a can of Coca-Cola, she’s now fighting to stay afloat as life continues to swallow her.

The film recently received two SA Film and Television Award nominations – Best Actress for Visser and Best Achievement in Scriptwriting for Tracey Farren. It won best SA film and Visser won best actress at the Durban International Film Festival in 2016 and at the KykNET Silwerskermfees.

Without moralising, the film tackles issues around prostitution, sexual abuse, rape and addiction. It will strip you of any desensitised feelings you may have about sexual abuse and rape, and how women and female children have to adjust their world when those closest to them are the perpetrators.

The fact that Tess is a sex worker is almost incidental. She’s a young woman who is undergoing a tumultuous journey: Facing the truth of her childhood, coming to terms with it and moving forward with her inner dignity intact. You feel her suffering like a punch in the gut.

The film is an intense portrait of a young woman who asks as little as R100 for sex and mostly survives because of her wry humour.

She is so valiantly honest about her past and her present as she fights back with everything she has, attempting to exorcise her demons while caring about the wellbeing of her friends.

Without ever resorting to clichés, her journey is enhanced by the cinematography and music, which help you perfectly experience and explore the hurtful world of this layered character.

Most of this moving and provocative film is shot with a hand-held camera, because the director wanted to create the feeling that the camera is present with the actors, moving, reacting and breathing with them.

The production team interviewed local sex workers and used several real locations to create the narrative.

While the film is not meant to be a representation of all sex workers’ lives, its director, Meg Rickards, hopes it initiates a public dialogue. “It’s a story first and foremost. We wanted it to feel realistic, but it’s not meant to be a documentary or an advocacy film.”

Tess is Rickards’ first big-screen feature film after previously working in documentaries. It’s a hard-hitting drama that’s based on Farren’s award-winning novel, Whiplash. But be warned, Tess contains a rape scene that may be triggering for survivors.

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