Interracial homosexual love in the 21st century is, in some countries, tolerated if not openly endorsed (even in the gay community—seen any “black-and-white” couples featured in gay-stream media lately?); in 18th century South Africa, the sodomy laws were
enforced with impunity by the governing Dutch in response to the then (1730s) “monstrous [moral] panic,“ that manifested itself in trials, scaffolds and
terse midnight meetings of the damned.
Convicted sodomist Rijkhaart Jacobz (moodily portrayed by
Neil Sandilands) is already the resident faggot on Robben Island when
Hottentot, Claas Blank (brilliantly interpreted by Rouxnet Brown who carries
the film with his emotional versatility and captivating good looks), sentenced
to ten years hard labour for insubordination, arrives to serve his time,
soon sparking the interest of prisoner and capture alike.
With an evocative original score—metaphorically featuring
a string quartet alternating with indigenous instruments and drums—the
story of lust, love and betrayal intriguingly bemoans racism and prejudice of
bygone times while peppering the “history” with more modern references (the
’50s typing-pool trio debating the correct translation for “fucked” speaks
volumes; having the Dutch dungeon-master, Willer—played with eerie vigour by
Grant Swanby—mete out water or whipping punishments wearing a uniform of
modern enforcement officers (or leather-bar aficionados) simultaneously
confuses our outrage and stimulates thought: masterful touch.
The sex scenes between Blank and Jacobz are tasteful, if
brief, moving from initial, lightening-speed, animal penetration and release to
a playful romp on the beach before, finally, demonstrating tenderness and care
where Blank yields and offers himself “as your mare.” The evolution from
fuck buddies to lovers is wonderfully set up when Blank surreptitiously gives
Jacobz the necklace that was hand-fashioned for him by his mother (weven as she
passes on the aural history of his culture). That passed-down
history, Blank—in an excellent example of opportunism rewriting historical
“facts,“—later relates to Scottish botanist Virgil Niven (Shaun Smyth). The
happily married Niven—himself no stranger to “beneath-the-pier” encounters in Amsterdam—silently witnesses the unspeakable love of the smitten convicts, yet fails to report
it, hoping his silence might be leveraged into a personal tasting of the “inferior” species.
Time goes on. Blank will soon be released, but Jacobz
has another five years to serve. Their last coupling is again observed, but this
time by an over-weight con, previously spurned by Jacobz. Unfortunately,
revenge comes in many forms. Soon the two lovers are on trial together—tortured to confess by their own imaginations (a drowning cell that Jacobz has
described so vividly that Blank, as he dreams, merges the terrifying chamber
and Willer into one colossal cauldron of betrayal). Awake again, everyone
Convicted of sex crimes in absentia, Niven returns to the Cape where his astonished wife (Jane Rademeyer) blurts out “I’ve known you my whole life, and now I know you not at all,” as she instructs her husband to leave.
Jacobz“s I’m always too careful,” cracks and confesses
during the tribunal, assuring his final demise. Blank has the choice: speak
up or go free. Beautifully captured, at peace with himself, he shapes three
words: “Di ta go,” in a moment that transcends the centuries, as courageous
then as, in many, many parts of the world, they would still be today.
The film tracks another historical martyr whose story
unfolds on the same piece of real estate as modern-day leader Nelson Mandela. JWR