Written and directed by Jenna Cato Bass, after being involved in an accidental murder, a young woman and her best friend flee across the South African Karoo, pursued by a police officer. Starring: Faith Baloyi, Nicole Fortuin, Izel Bezuidenhout, De Klerk Oelofse, Albert Pretorius, Clayton Evertson, Kim Goncalves, Brendon Daniels and Eric Nobbs.
Jenna Cato Bass’s visual style is intriguing right from the very start, firstly for having a fantastic shot of Beauty (Baloyi) wearing a sparkly pink tracksuit in a gun range, the contrast of it is wonderful. Secondly her choice of angles are perfectly unexpected, a number of her shots find themselves in completely different places than you might expect, it brings an unusual perspective which is enjoyable to watch. It helps to push the sense of mystery to the story, each atypical angle pokes at your curiosity. The whole atmosphere the film builds is unique, there’s a sincere modesty and down to earth quality to it and yet it’s also self-assured and confident. It avoids any flash or glamour but brings a depth and relatability. It manages to hold onto its harshness of reality, without gaining an overt grit, there’s still a casual or subtle, almost comedic edge to it.
Bass’s writing follows a similar path, the drama is highly effective and yet still understated. It creates a tension and suspense that bubbles in the background, getting to know its characters while their tentative fates hang in the air. It brings through a number of moments of discomfort which help keep its grip firmly on reality and all of the racism, misogyny, sexism and violence against women that involves. It moves at a great pace, you could call it slow but in a satisfying way, it takes its time but is still constantly moving forward. Initially, it’s not entirely clear how the two stories link together, that element could have moved more swiftly to have a more consistent mingling of the two but it doesn’t take long to resolve itself much like a Nordic crime drama.
There’s a brilliant ensemble at work here, all of the actors give great performances and are a joy to watch. Nicole Fortuin brings a superb vulnerability and naivety to Natalie, mixing that with an instinctive strength and the touching connection she has with her horse and the memory of her mother. Izel Bezuidenhout feels reminiscent of a young Imogen Poots, with a manic, chaotic vibe hiding the insecurities and self-doubt beneath, young and reckless but with simple desires of being loved and cared for. Faith Baloyi is a strong, intelligent and resilient woman as Beauty, but battling with her own issues just like the young women she’s tracking down. This film is all about its women, the men do a perfect job of supporting them and furthering the stories they’re telling but there’s no doubt, the women are the star of the show here.
Flatland is a unique, compelling and relatable drama. It delves into a harsh reality without losing the ground beneath its feet, creating something confident, sincere and humble. The performances are top notch from Fortuin, Bezuidenhout and Baloyi, and ones you likely won’t forget in a hurry for their touching authenticity. The directorial and writing styles create a wonderfully unusual and affecting atmosphere, it’s curious and just the right touch of harsh.