Clementine Mosimane in a scene from the movie, "Poppie Nongena".
Picture: Supplied
Clementine Mosimane in a scene from the movie, "Poppie Nongena". Picture: Supplied

Clementine Mosimane on slipping into the skin of Poppy Nongena

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Feb 7, 2020

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After many years in the industry, Clementine Mosimane has become proficient at playing maternal characters. In fact, she excels at it – as she’s proven with her latest role in BET’s "Black Tax".

That’s the great thing about Mosimane, whatever the demands of the role, she rises to the challenge and delivers. An all-rounder, comfortable in  any genre, Mosimane has been glowing from the positive feedback to her big-screen role in Christiaan Olwagen’s powerful drama, "Poppie Nongena".

Based on Elsa Joubert’s novel, "The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena", which is regarded as one of the best African novels of the 20th century, the film takes viewers on a dark pilgrimage of the life of one black woman.

It follows the Afrikaans-speaking Xhosa mother’s heartbreaking legal struggles as well as frustrations in trying to educate her children while dealing with issues of faith and tradition. Turning back to this time in history was never going to be a walk in the park.

Clementine Mosimane is the eponymous lead in Christiaan Olwagen’s powerful drama, "Poppie Nongena". Picture: Supplied

Mosimane shared: “My first thoughts when I read the script were, ‘Oh my word! Will I manage this character?’ Poppie’s character was not easy as it was as complicated as life itself. She was a focused woman and mother, fighting life from all angles.”

On being able to relate to the subject matter and sharing similarities with her character, she said, “Oh yes, we both have our belief systems in place. We are women of strength, we never give up and whatever we do in life is in the best interest of our families.”

As for her overall impression of the film, which has enjoyed several screenings so far, Mosimane revealed: “The film is very authentic: it teaches (us) about our history as a country and people; where we are coming from, what strong women we have fighting the system of the day. 

"Walking your own journey where the rest of the world did not even know. It is very close because I know so many mothers and women have walked that road. It’s one of the films I would dedicate to women on every Women’s Month/Day.”

Director and writer Olwagen ("Kanarie", "The Seagull" and "Johnny is Nie Dood Nie") understood the delicate balance needed in telling this story.

He said: “I often don’t look for the projects that I end up doing, they somehow find me, and Poppie followed a similar trajectory. I was approached by Helena Spring and Karen Meiring with a phone call and a draft. They asked me to read the script and see whether I’d be interested in coming on board. I wanted to get to know the source material first. 

"I knew of the book but had never gotten around to reading it. "Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena" happened to be one of the novels I filched from my mother’s library, now sitting in my own stockpile, part of a plethora of promise-to-reads gathering dust. I grabbed it off the shelf, decided there and then that it was as good an excuse as any and dove in.

“Without a doubt a political piece, but told through a very personal prism. Its unique stance on the student riots, wholly viewed from the perspective of a concerned parent, was something I hadn’t read or seen. It was very much the story of a mother’s struggle and I fell in love with the eponymous heroine.”

After re-reading the last page several times, he phoned Helena in tears and asked her, “When do we start?” And so the seeds of creativity were planted.

He admitted: “We knew from the get-go trying to tell the whole story in a single film was going to be a near-impossible task. After meeting the novelist, Joubert, and getting her permission to take what we need and discard what we don’t, the screenwriter, Saartjie Botha, and I took a page from Virginia Woolf’s 'Mrs Dalloway' – through the prism of a singular timespan we can comprehend an entire lifetime. We decided to tell the tale from the perspective of the final year in the novel, the most political and tragic year in Poppie’s life.

“Although the feeling of the film is visceral, we aimed to juxtapose the political and emotional upheavals with the tragic beauty of a biblical baroque painting. The depictions of domesticity by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, who painted The Milkmaid with the same reverence as the Madonna, greatly influenced the visual poetry of the film.”

On Mosimane’s performance, he praised: “Clementine Mosimane. A force of nature. She ran the whole gamut of human emotions, A to Z, in one film. She’s not only an exceptional actress but an incredible human being. Whereas the script gave the lead character its bones, she was the beating heart, pumping the blood of her own experiences into Poppie.”

"Poppie Nongena" is screening at cinemas, nationwide.

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