NOBODY’S DIED LAUGHING
DIRECTOR: Willem Oelofsen
CAST: Pieter-Dirk Uys, Sophia Loren, Desmond Tutu, Charlize Theron, Janet Suzman, Jonathan Shapiro
CLASSIFICATION: 7-9PG L
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)
A BIOGRAPHIC feature documentary on the work of satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys (pictured), Nobody’s Died Laughing is quietly inspiring. It tells the story of one man who rolled up his sleeves and got on with the job, rather than just griping about everything that is bad.
It gives you a whole lot of information about Uys, rather than the characters he portrays, but delivers it in managable chunks.
Uys at times talks directly to the camera and discusses candidly his relationship with his father, something he has never really done on stage until this year, but the bulk of what we learn about him comes from other people.
Fast-paced, featuring lots of jump-cuts and glossy images of many different cities, the documentary contains interviews with a star-studded list of people singing Uys’s praises, a who’s who list of recognisable faces explaining what Uys means to them.
Interviewees like David Kramer give historical context by explaining how artists like himself and Uys navigated the Censor Board, while a contemporary artist like Jack Parow acknowledges how Uys paved the way for the Afrikaans rapper to be as outre as he wants to be.
The filmmakers follow Uys around for a chronological year, but tell his life story geographically, moving around with him as he performs on stages, accepts awards, goes home to Darling and visits friends overseas.
While he may be a theatre personality, Uys has leveraged that into a serious philanthropic career centred on educating people about everything from Aids prevention to the necessity of voting in a democracy. His dedication to educating the youth shines through, as does his devil may care attitude towards people who can’t take a joke.
Editor/co-director, Geoffrey Butler has teased a coherent story out of backstage glimpses, archived film footage and old family photos.
Occasionally we hear a ghostly voice (director Oelofsen) ask a question or direct Uys to try a different door, but the filmmakers stay out of the way, guiding the narrative, but allowing other voices to tell the story.
Insightful, at times funny and poignant, the documentary doesn’t just say nice things, showing how not every production Uys has ever created has been a runaway success. But, for the most part, it delves into Uys’s work to show you the man behind the stage persona, a person who hides very successfully behind the wigs and dresses, who learnt early on that laughter is the best way to break down the fear of the unknown.
If you liked Hidden Heart, you will like this.