But the last decade have produced some amazing SA films, like 'Yesterday', 'Tsotsi' and the more recent 'District 9' – all of which delivered the entire film package, presenting themselves as well-rounded and tight cinematic triumphs. Each of these films however had help from some overseas partners, a formula that seems to have worked splendidly for the latest SA film hit to join this list as well: Spud, based on the novel by John van de Ruit.
Written and directed by Donovan Marsh, Spud is a solid addition to the 'coming-of-age' drama as it successfully tackles always-relevant teenage issues like puberty; relationships with family, friends, mentors and lovers as well as more serious ones like alcohol addiction and how to deal with loss.
A solid cast (with a dangerous amount of child actors) delivers believable and spirited performances, imbuing the film with the same sense of cheekiness and humour that the novel itself is known for. John Cleese (best known for the Monthy Python series) gives this local production a decent amount of star appeal with a eccentric, but honest supporting performance. The star of the show is of course Spud himself, played with immense skill by Troye Sivan (Born in SA, but raised in Australia). Sivan seems perfect for the role (big ups to the casting director), playing his confused, but extremely comic character with an impressive level of insight and sensitivity. The rest of the ensemble cast do well to fill the gaps in Spud's crazy teenage world, as they all contribute in some way to Spud's development as a character.
The most poignant aspect of the movie however has to be the amazing, almost haunting cinematography, contributing to the film's overall impact immensely as emotional scenes (as well as the more humorous ones) are awarded a nice lingering sensation with beautiful close-ups.
Special mention must also be made of the movie's great understanding of comedy: I found myself astonished at how many times I couldn't help myself from bursting with laughter. My bursts were caused by a well-varied mixture of humour that ranges from humorous schoolboy antics to some very intellectual (and some less intellectual) inner contemplations as well as confrontations between Spud and the rest of the cast.
Even though I'm sure that international audience members will find more than enough here to enjoy, Spud will definitely ' hit home' stronger for South Africans, as the pre-Apartheid backdrop is used cleverly as a light basting, resulting in most scenes having a juicy, deeper meaning. Some of the jokes assumes the viewer has at least an average insight into SA's political history for them to be effective, but most are timed and explained well enough by the narrator to work for a much broader geographical audience as well.
With all of this said, there does seem to be one aspect of the film that could have been improved upon, namely the score. While the score isn't horrible, some techno-beats seem horribly out-of-place, whilst other pieces seem a bit too dramatic for them to gel properly with what is happening on screen.
Nevertheless, this is a small blemish in a beautifully serious film, that strangely enough manages to not take itself too seriously, resulting in a satisfying, but honest cinematic experience that is sure to resonate powerfully with most audience members – especially males who'll find a magnitude of experiences to relate to.
Highlight: As Spud learns more and more about girls, his fantasies also seem to become much more... well... 'adventurous'.
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