Friday, August 10th, 2012

Black Butterflies


It’s so hard not to think of Sylvia Plath when you watch this heart-wrenching biopic of the
celebrated but deeply troubled South African poet Ingrid Jonker as both of then took their own lives at a young age.  Plath was just 30 when she poisoned herself in 1963, and Jonker drowned herself two years later when she was barely 31.  Both women also had complex relationships with their respective fathers, which contributed to their deep un-happiness.
Filmmaker Paula
Van der Oest’s
fascinating profile opens on a glorious Cape Town beach 
where Ingrid is struggling with the strong tides and is saved from drowning by a handsome older stranger who turns out to be the novelist Jack Cape. When Jack discovers Ingrid’s identity he professes to be a fan of her work, but very soon after that he starts an affair with her (he already has a wife and two children) and is quickly declaring his love too.
Ingrid, recently separated from her husband after a very short marriage has a two year old daughter, also falls heavily for Jack but she soon engineers the first of many break-up’s with one of her frequent emotional flare ups when Jack fails to responds to all of her demands.  Ingrid’s irrationality and her highly-strung nature are not so much about attention seeking but her very desperate and real need to be loved. Yet when pregnant with Jack’s child she secretly takes herself to a back street abortionist  without  telling a soul.
When Jack won’t give her the attention she wants Ingrid doesn’t hesitate in finding another man/men who will, including the newly married novelist Eugene Maritz. He, like Jack, will also end up telling the highly demanding Ingrid ‘you drain me!’  Despite her ambivalence, it is Jack that stands by her one way or another, and it is he that rescues her work from one of the several Mental Institutions she has been confined in, and brings it home to edit it all into what will eventually become her award winning book of Poetry that really establishes her literary reputation
Ingrid’s  father had divorced her mother before she had been born, and she was only 10 years old when her mother died and her father that she never knew took her, and her sister, to live with him and his 3rd wife and their children where they were treated like strangers. Mr. Jonkers was a leading rightwing racist Member of Parliament, and even though when Ingrid grew up and her politics where at the totally opposite end of the scale, she never stopped trying to win his love and/or approval.  There is one very poignant scene when she pleads with her father to read her latest poem ‘The Child That Was Shot Dead’ about an outrageous incident she had witnessed but he in real anger just rips the paper to shreds.  He takes her in to give her a roof over her head when she was homeless even though he hates her (‘you are a slut’ he shouts) but in the end he gets his revenge by agreeing that the latest Mental Institution that she has been confined can give her electric shack treatment which finally breaks her spirit.
These were turbulent times in South Africa and the black majority were still being kept in their place by the white Afrikaner’s and her vehement opposition to apartheid greatly affected Ingrid and her work.  It’s rather fitting that many years later Nelson Mandela chose to read the same poem that had once so incensed Ingrid’s father.  The date was 1994, and the occasion was the Opening of the first Democratically Elected Parliament in South Africa. It’s a fitting tribute to the passionate eloquent prose of a woman whose legacy lasted longer than her short life.
I will totally put my hands up at admitting that I had never even heard of Ms. Jonkers until I caught sight of this movie.  In it she is stunningly played by Dutch actress Carice van Houten who strikes such a fine balance of a troubled soul that could still pour out this remarkable work.  The poems themselves that are quoted throughout the work are exceptionally moving and will make you want to read more.

Tough and sad story: beautifully told.

Posted by queerguru  at  19:18

Genres:  drama, international

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