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Review: Dust Devil

January 5th, 2007 (09:25 am)

© 2007 D. Gordon

If you're plugged into certain communities (which I'm actually not), you'll have heard of the South African film Dust Devil. About how it's the work of apartheid-era exile Richard Stanley: started as a first film, completed later with better funding, only to have the production company go belly up, the UK partner shelve it, and the US partner slice and dice it by about a third, taking out the more fanciful elements. Stanley spent over ten years (and quite a bit of money) getting it back and putting together what evolved into a final cut DVD box, packaged with three other of his films. As befitting its mythic status, the box is a limited edition of 9,999 and includes a graphic novel version, a production notes version, and some information about the other films.

The only problem is... the film. It's a pretty interesting premise: a demon wandering the lonely spaces of the South African / Namibian border, feeding off the suicidal (and giving them a little "help"); a woman leaving her husband, for what she hopes is the last time, but incapable of figuring out what to do next; a detective trying to track down a serial killer, with a friend who continually cautions him to look beyond the mundane to the supernatural. But you have to have the actors to carry the story. Robert John Burke and Chelsea Field are only adequate as the demon and the woman; Zakes Mokae is somewhat intriguing as the detective; and Marianne Sägebrecht makes a confusing cameo as a – I'm not really sure. A pathologist? Some sort of doctor? But there's some serious phoning in going on, not helped much by the plot. I understand why the demon is "from Texas"; the symbolism, however, doesn't particularly work in this situation. And the ending – I think I know what happened, but it's not quite clear. This isn't a matter of leaving things for the audience to discover; it's a matter of muddied storytelling.

And omigod, don't get me started on the director interview. For someone who tells stories for a living, he's indescribably painful to listen to recounting his own. Monotone, staring straight ahead (not into the camera), and continually chain-smoking. Blink just once and prove to us your movie isn't an autobiography!

I like obscure things (all you have to do is read this LJ to see that). I like finding out about new things. I've never seen any of Stanley's work before, and maybe it gets better with some of the other pieces in the box (all documentaries: Secret Glory - a documentary about Otto Rahn, a Nazi who went after the Holy Grail; Voice of the Moon - an image poem of Stanley's time traveling Russian-occupied Afghanistan; and The White Darkness - Stanley's look at Haitian voodoo, done for the BBC). They all sound potentially fascinating. But Dust Devil may be more of a personal quest, and a personal story, than good filmmaking.

The Unofficial Richard Stanley website: http://www.everythingisundercontrol.org/nagtloper/