Twenty seven years after Andrew Worsdale’s first film Shot Down was banned in South
Africa, the writer and director’s movie Durban Poison won Best South African Feature
Film at the Durban International Film Festival in July and will have its international
premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea in October.
Andrew Worsdale wrote Durban Poison in 1987. The movie was almost made in 1988
but investors pulled out at the last minute. Worsdale left the country, disillusioned. But
the story of the outlaw lovers at the heart of his film remained.
Durban Poison, which has been likened to a South African version of Bonnie and Clyde,
a comparison Worsdale does not agree with, lingered in his mind when films such as
Wild at Heart, Natural Born Killers and Kalifornia started screening. Also frustrating was
the fact that, while Durban Poison lay dormant, movies like Adaptation, Being John
Malkovich and Memento, with their brilliant twists started a new era of movie storytelling,
mirroring Worsdale’s unreleased project.
However, the director had his own demons to overcome before Durban Poison was
finally made in November 2012 with Cara Roberts and Brandon Auret in the lead roles.
“When the opportunity came to finally shoot the movie, I was so aware of the karma,
the miracle of it, and was constantly saying thanks for the way it finally came to be. And
I firmly believe the film is way better than it could have been in previous years. It was a
long haul, but worth every bit of pain,’ comments Worsdale.
Roberts, daughter of well-known South African actors Ian Roberts and Michelle Botes,
plays the role of Jolene, a young prostitute who gets “rescued’ by Auret’s character,
Piet, who is barely able to fend for himself. He sees in her his salvation, a reason to
exist, but the joy is fleeting and life in all its gritty reality soon takes over the all-
consuming passion the couple feels for each other.
There is a poignant scene in which Jolene and Piet lie on the hood of his car watching the
sun rise over their new romance, lost in the moment and forgetting that the sunset is
just hours away. As the light seeps from their relationship and their lives become more
futile, and when the realisation hits that their love is doomed, they turn into murderers.
A love story
“My film is a love story,’ says Worsdale, “the story of a broken romance inspired by true
events. It’s not about the murders or the killing spree, even though there are murders
in the film. Rather it’s a tale of memory and regret, so you can expect a lump in your
throat when you watch it, rather than some kind of lurid satisfaction at someone else’s
Worsdale continues: “The film went through many incarnations and it’s certainly the
best or most mature movie I could have made. I think if I made the movie 20 years ago
it would have been more flippant, perhaps sexier, but in a “kitchy’ way.
“The karma of the film is quite extraordinary. I was constantly aware of this karmic
blessing and that is why I cast Marcel van Heerden as the baddie and Marie Human as
the stepmom. They were originally supposed to play the leads in the 1988 version.
“Cara Roberts is the perfect age and is a young actress with enormous talent, it
breathes in her DNA. I’d always liked Brandon Auret’s work so I called him, sent him the
script, met him and knew he was right for the role.’
Underneath the surface
However, underneath this genre narrative is a story about violence in South Africa,
machismo and bravado.
“Durban Poison brings up the whole macho part of the South African society and the
fact that the men in the movie don’t know whether to protect Jolene or to fuck her;
they don’t know whether she’s a woman or a girl. There’s also the issue of possession.
“Ultimately everyone in the film just wants to have a good time and live happily ever
after, but they’re so messed up by either having no money or this macho stuff. And
then someone loses their temper,’ comments Worsdale.
He says: “What comes through is the loneliness of the lives these two characters lived,
together and apart. Neither of them have power. She has no power to escape this life
and he has no power to rescue her and that impotence is embarrassing.
“What could me more embarrassing to a man than to be unable to protect his woman
from degradation and abuse, especially when he should have some foothold in the
Durban Poison is the feature film debut of cinematographer William Collinson and editor
Byron Davis and features an original score as well as songs by Durban-born musician
Jim Neversink. The movie was produced by Diony Kempen, Deon Meyer and Carmel
The film also stars Gys de Villiers, Danny Keogh, Ronny Nyakele, Frank Opperman and