Dollars and White Pipes 2005

Directed by Donovan Marsh, this inde­pendent film was made on a shoes­tring and is one of the better examples of post-apartheid cinema from South Africa. Set in the 1980s, it tells the supposedly ‘true’ story of Bernie Baatjies, a ‘Cape Coloured’ according to the old system of racial clas­si­fic­a­tion, who was born into a life of grinding poverty and endemic drug abuse.

Touch­ingly inspired by the capit­alist dream person­i­fied by Dallas on the tv, Bernie works his way up until he fulfils his dream of running his own night club. For a brief while, he tastes the fruits of success until the crim­inal under­world ruins everything. Dollars is essen­tially a Candide story; a familiar ‘rags to riches’ – and back to rags again – fable; but an enga­ging perform­ance by Clint Brink in the lead role and a detached (though never unkind) sense of humour about its subject matter lift it above the ordinary.

The World Of The Story: the dark beneath the surface

The film starts with a dark distorted sequence and then launches into a brightly lit one, very remin­is­cent of the cine­matic style of Train­spot­ting, in which the hero lacon­ic­ally sketches in for us the hope­less­ness and predict­ab­ility of his situation.

This sets the tone for the rest of the film: a lurch between what might be called a misguided optimism and the looming spectre of failure and self-destruction. Bernie is a naive char­acter, albeit a sly one, and we are meant to like him (unlike Renton in Train­spot­ting). He’s also an underdog who might deserve our sympathy for social and histor­ical reasons but the film is wise enough never to exploit them explicitly.

David Clough ©2011

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