23 November 2012

Namibia: 'Taste of Rain?

When regarding Richard Pakleppa’s ‘Taste of Rain’ amidst the keyed up crowd that gathered for its namibian premiere at the national Theatre last week, it is interesting to observe how abruptly the air of excitement graduates into a concentrated silence as every element of the film begins to crawl across the screen at a pace akin to its milieu.

Set in the desert south amidst a seven year drought, the effects of which are accentuated by the languid movement of the camera, the characters and the dialogue between the two married protagonists, the film resonates as an unhurried exploration of a broken soul struggling to survive in a godforsaken middle of nowhere.

Initially just as silent as the namibian desert, the film begins by making the audience squirm uncomfortably in their seats as beautiful shot after shot proceeds with no dialogue.

With no words with which to lead watchers towards heavy-handed understanding, ‘Taste of Rain’, asks that one engage with the landscape and the persistent quiet in the intense and individual way one would if faced with the same surroundings in real life.

Tellingly, the first word spoken in the film is the name “Rachel” which is screamed into the emptiness by the lead character’s husband in a way that encompasses all the desperation and despair that causes the troubled couple to cling to each other despite their love having sprung a leak.

Rachel is played sublimely by South Africa’s Nicola Hanekom and her troubled, fragile and taciturn character is juxtaposed against the consummate Grant Swanby who plays Tomas, the sensitive farmer desperate for rain and for the some sign of life from his wife, with remarkable and captivating restraint.

When a last ditch attempt to find water fails, Tomas, sets out to find the almost mythical substance with renewed purpose and though his footprints in the sand have barely been blown away, the male lead is quickly taken up by a water diviner named Ray played erratically by Pope Jerrod.

Though the film is certainly beautiful to behold and hanekom’s performance is eerie and enigmatic, the relationship between Rachel and Ray comes off as wooden and without any feigned or factual chemistry.

As their relationship blossoms under the watchful eye of Ou Lena, played delicately by Frieda Byl, it becomes harder and harder to believe that their stilted interaction can lead to Rachel leaving her husband and following Ray on a path that leads to a confrontation and grisly admission prompted by David ndjavera’s ex- Koevoet Shaanika.

As a central and pivotal relationship, this one lacks believability. And though a relationship between a sheltered white woman and a confident black man could result in some awkward moments, the ones between hanekom and Jerrod are too numerous and near between.

Visually the film is stunning in the truest sense of the word. Pakleppa seems to effortlessly set up shots which find a melancholic Rachel wrapped in the shadows of a tree, writhing without movement on a flower-filled carpet or disappearing out a door into the most heavenly burst of light.

Complimenting this symphony for the eyes is South African composer Braam du Toit’s original score which heightens moments of despair, pain and urgency to intense and intimate levels.

his score sits snugly in between Tomas’ looks of longing directed towards Rachel, amidst Frieda Byl’s soft spoken empathy and astride Rachel’s escalating desert dementia with a sensitivity and charm wonderfully suited to the slowly unfolding drama.

Much like the beginning, the film ends with Rachel in water. not trying to wash the trauma, challenges and desperation of her life away in a bowl that is far too shallow to cleanse her but immersed in endless water as salty as it is soothing to her soul.

Watch ‘Taste of Rain’ if you can handle the intensity of a slow and serious filmic experience that demands quiet and is accentuated by attentiveness.

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