FEATURE FILM/SOUTH AFRICA/2019/CAPE TOWN, Cut-Out Girls, directed by Nicola Hanekom, general release in South Africa, November 2019

Review: Cut-Out Girls

Directed and writer: Nicola Hanekom

Producer: Grant Swanby

Cast: Performers include Joel Rosenblatt, Cody Mountain, Ashleigh van der Hoven, Meghan Oberholzer, Keziah Gabriel, Chloe Papademetriou, Atlanta Johnson, Melanie Tafila and Michelle Scott (Hill).

Production: Act Cape Town Productions in Association with Haas & Kaas and Sae Institute

Line Producer: Candice Poole

Executive Producers: Nico van der Hoven, Nico van Diemen, Salomé van Diemen and Candice Poole

Director of photography: Brett Rayner

Music: Pierre-Henri Wicomb

Art Director: Carin Bester

Distributor: Indigenous Film

Cut-Out Girls is a visually and emotionally wrenching film but it is not a “nice” film. When the credits rolled there was a silence as the audience sat there, stunned. I recently saw two American block-buster films which are contenders for Oscars. I found them white-male centred, narcissistic, long, drawn out and boring. I walked out thinking: “Who cares?” After watching Cut-Out Girls, I left the cinema; caring deeply about what I had just seen. It is a film which wrestles with violence and gender – and a host of other realities.

Cut-Out Girls is an important film which foregrounds chilling truths that young women face. Actually, gender and age aside, everyone is vulnerable. If you have had a drink or two (or popped some other substance or are on medication), your defences are bound to be down. You are a target as you chill out and enjoy some down time at a party (could well be in a private home) or a club setting.

On The Cut Girls website, “date rape” is mentioned. That is a term which has its problems. In the film, the protagonists don’t go on dates. There are hook ups in a socially buzzed up context. Some are not even hook ups. Let’s leave it at that to give you a sense of the “subject matter”. Whatever terminology is used, it is horrible. The creative team which includes Nicola Hanekom (director), Brett Rayner (director of photography) and Pierre-Henri Wicomb (music) have made a film of intense immersion. I did not just watch. I became immersed in the complex narratives.

Cut-Out Girls may be an issue driven film, but through the skill of the creatives and textured performances by the actors, we are pulled into the interlocking narrative lines. It could have easily been a film of gratuitous voyeurism with shades of morality primer. This is not a True Crime podcast that we are watching but elements of the True Crime documentary genre have been brought into the structuring of the narratives: the fear factor that tugs us along to watch and not avert our eyes. It is a hard hitting smack of a film and that is what makes it so successful, in my opinion. As viewers we care deeply. This could happen to us. It is happening. I felt chills go through me as I watched.

Cut-Out Girls tracks the narratives of young women in Cape Town who at the end of a long day of work, “just want to have fun.” The film was inspired and based on a play, Girls just want to have fun, which Nicola Hanekom wrote and directed. It was staged at the US Woordfees and Cape Town Fringe in 2017.

Plot-spoiler alert. We see young women are the prey of two young studs -tennis players. They dope them; rape and violate them. The disembodied, mannequin like bodies are flayed and splayed out in interior and exterior spaces. They are cut-out dolls, dummies – suggesting sex toys to be played with. Coupled with the violation is the men’s filming of their prey; their trophies. For them, it is sport and fun. Their archive is an extension of the violation and a source for their arousal as they go through their days. It’s a shocking image – the disjointed, jerky self-filming. There are echoes of re-enactments of the True Crime genre. However, they are not re-enacting. They are catching themselves in the act and archiving the footage for future arousal. Cameras are very much part of our lives. We don’t know what is being filmed. These drugged women do not know. It’s a double violation- the physical violation and the gratuitous rape film.

Drawing on her extensive experience in live performance in public art/performance and site specific and responsive work, Hanekom, working with DOP Rayner frames each scene almost like a performance. There is a theatricality and stylisation that heightens the drugged out fugue of the women. Visually, it is chilling to see as the bodies are splayed, yanked, pulled and dumped by the men. Hanekom places/arranges each body very deliberately in each locale. There is a bricolage of public and private space: beach, home, nightclub, all-night food store. Within this landscape the narratives unfurl as the protagonists connect and disconnect- dealing with what has occurred and what is revealed to them. There is a ballet dancer dealing with survival as an artist; photographer, boxer; two young women in a committed relationship; girlfriends of the rapists; a rape crisis counsellor; the mother of one of the men (she is in her own fugue- superbly played by Cape Town born and now Brussels based, Michelle Scott).

Cape Town as a city of pleasure, beauty and fear is vividly imaged. The beach is buffeted by the wind at night. That wind is pushing and shoving aside the foliage; framed by the beautiful, alluring cityscape of twinkling lights.

Ahh, Cape Town; we love our city. “Ahh, you live in such a beautiful city,” people croon. We do. But, it’s hardly a safe city. By night, the danger is exacerbated. Currently, the city has been cowed by a tsunami of violence – much of that violence against women. It’s brutal and has left our city reeling. We watch Cut-Out Girls with the fear and despair reverberating around us. This is not to say that women and people in general are “safe” elsewhere. We recently walked through streets of San Francisco, around Union Square and we were very afraid as we stepped through people shooting up in the streets and gags huddled on corners; leering at passers-by. We were walking to a concert, as roads were closed. We walked with intent and in a heighted sense of being on guard. We have had similar experiences in Madrid and Chicago. Where is safe?

The #MeToo movement brings new revelations every day of coercion and violation in spaces which one would think are safe – which are off the street and apparently in places which are deemed safe.

On the note of #MeToo, Hanekom reflected in an interview with TheCapeRobyn: “We finished filming this before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke. Since then the world has seen Brett Kavanaugh, Bill Cosby and on our doorstep, Uyinene. [Uyinene Mrwetyana, the 19-year-old University of Cape Town student who was raped and murdered. She went missing August 24, 2019 and on September 2, 2019, the news was released about her horrific rape and death]. Maybe that gives you a sense of how long our journey has been [in making the film – the journey from script to development to wrap]. My hope is that we will get enough attendance to at least run throughout the 16 days of activism against violence against women and children that starts on November 25.” (The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children is a United Nations campaign which takes place annually from November 25- International Day of No Violence against Women to December 10 December -International Human Rights Day.)

Cut-Out Girls is being distributed through 22 cinemas in South Africa – mainstream and Indy. Labia Theatre in Cape Town is not on the list as there was no availability at the venue but hopefully, it will be screened soon there.

Bravo to team Cut-Out Girls – creatives, producers, actors and its distributor, Indigenous Films. We hope that this powerful film gets traction on the international circuit. The film foregrounds chilling universal realities and delivers an immersive and deeply engaging experience.

By the way, let’s just toss in the following, to round up this review of Cut-Out Girls and bring home the fact that we should all take note of and proceed with caution at all times. This film gazes at a spectrum of young women having fun but it is not only the young who are vulnerable as the following demonstrates. TheCapeRobyn was told about a Cape Town businesswoman in her 40s who was recently on business in Italy. She had her wheelie suitcase with her and was waiting for transport in a lounge at a train station. A charming, stylish man said hello and offered to buy her a cup of coffee. She accepted. Why not. It was just a cup of coffee. She had time. He seemed affable and friendly. Next thing, she woke up in a hotel room – bruised, with clear signs of being raped and being drugged. Her money, clothes, jewellery, phone – gone. All that remained was her passport. Nothing was caught on camera. Yes, a cup of coffee. This film is cautionary tale for all of us. See it.

Cut-Out Girls is a beautifully crafted film -a chilling evocation of the other side of having fun in a city at night.

✔ A portion of the proceeds of Cut-Girls will go to Rape Crisis Cape Town Trusthttps://rapecrisis.org.za/, a vital non- profit organisation.

Cut-Out Girls – screenings 2019

Screening from November 22, 2019 in South Africa at Ster-Kinekor TheatresNuMetro Movies V&A and independent venues.

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