A contemporary Western, a journey of self-discovery for three different but equally trapped women. A portrait of femininity against a hostile land, questioning what it means to be a woman today in South Africa and the world at large.
The world of lonely, middle-age policewoman Beauty Cuba changes forever when she receives a call for help from Billy, the lost love of her life who has recently been re-arrested for murder. Beauty returns to her home town of Beaufort West, deep in the heart of the surreal landscape of the Karoo semi-desert and quickly learns that this case is not as simple as she thought. The real culprit of this accidental murder is a painfully shy young woman named Natalie who flees her small, rural town on horseback and teams up with her now pregnant childhood friend Poppie to outrun the law. Flatland is a journey of self-discovery for these three different but equally desperate women, painting a vivid and unique portrait of femininity against a hostile frontier-land and questions what it means to be a women in contemporary South Africa and the world at large.
Not my way of story telling so be advised to read synopsis beforehand. Too much emphasis on the lowly position of women in South Africa. Several things confused me
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was the opening of the Panaroma section. I saw too much emphasis on showing that the situation of women in South Africa (and, by extrapolation, everywhere else in the world) is deplorable and deserves our pity. Didn't we know that already?? Further, it was very peculiar how black women openly talked about white's penises on a wedding party, and how others talked explicitly about the first night together. Is this typical for South Africa?? Before today, I assumed that only men say such things "among us", yet never in mixed company. But what do I know??
Anyway, it was nice to see South African landscapes and how people live there, far away from the big city, sort of a modern African variant of the American pre-1900 Wild West. The movie was South-African spoken, a language that "sounds like" Dutch, but I was glad that we had English subtitles. We got a touristic tour as icing on the cake, as integral part of the story, with Nathalie and Poppie fleeing on horseback to get away from lawful prosecution.
But apart from the icing, the cake itself had not so much taste, mostly due to the far-fetched-ness of the story. Most irritating example are questions what Billy was doing in the shed, not visible to us, where we saw only Nathalie, her horse, and the priest in the wheelchair. We heard some shooting, while leaving us in the dark who shot who. Billy was just released on parole after 15 years in prison, but he had no real purpose in the shed (I deduce from information given in a different scene, there were 500 miles in between), other than looking for a quiet place to stay where no one would bother him. The fact that the same Billy was once engaged (15 years ago) with Captain Beauty, the second main protagonist of this movie, turns the story into something overly complicated without any useful purpose.
Despite that a detective story may present false tracks to bring color to the story, three confusing things were thrown at us for no reason. Firstly, we saw Bakkies and Beauty on the murder scene while messing with some tracks, leaving unclear why they did that, given that Billy was considered guilty of the shooting from the outset. Secondly, we had to outguess that Bakkies and Beauty had at least contradicting reasons to have Billy as a confirmed killer. Thirdly, we were led to believe all along that Nathalie was the real killer of the priest, but we did not really see it, so the investigations going in many different directions casted doubts. Normally this is a good thing in a detective story, but now I'm not so sure. The order in which subsequent events are shown on screen, is not very helpful and adds to the (my) confusion.
Another confusing element is Poppie, the third main protagonist. She does everything to confirm what male chauvinists say about women in general, like being irresponsible, emotional, and so on. On the other hand, Nathalie and Beauty convince me to be no cardboard figures, unlike Poppie who destroys all hope that women can have all sorts of faults yet nevertheless capable of re-inventing themselves once needed in a difficult situation. The other two, Nathalie and Beauty, make a commendable attempt to counter the clichés we find in Poppie.
All in all, as opening movie for the Panorame section of the Berlinale 2019, I do not consider this the perfect choice. Though I usually admire detectives and thrillers that show a good building-up of the plot and explore several side lines to keep the tension about the ending, this movie did it all wrong (in my opinion). Reading the synopsis beforehand may alleviate some confusion about how the story develops, it still has its flaws, many of which I outlined above.
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