A scene from City of Violence.
A scene from City of Violence.

Playing an alcoholic mess of a South African cop in City of Violence is worlds away from the kind of roles English actor Orlando Bloom has become famous for, writes Theresa Smith.

 

ORLANDO Bloom phones from Los Angeles and expresses disappointment at not being able to travel to Cape Town again. (Actually, it’s the PR poppie who probably dialled, but it sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it?)

“I had such an amazing time there,” Bloom says about the City of Violence shoot in Cape Town in the second half of 2012.

The English actor travelled to the Mother City weeks before filming started. Prep meant learning the dialect, talking to people and immersing himself in the culture and way of life.

“I wanted to understand. The dialect was important, to try to finesse the dialect and make it as good as I could. I found that a useful way into the character,” said Bloom.

While South African media outlets love pointing out a link to the country through the man he thought was his father (Harry Bloom), the 37-year-old didn’t really have much of a relationship with the country before shooting this film.

The Capetonians he had met in Australia had given him a bit of an insight into what he terms “the naturism of the South African man”.

“ ‘I feel like South African men are men,’ one of the guys said to me. ‘That guy who doesn’t cry in front of his horse’,” Bloom said in a credible Australian accent – which was amusing because he had been speaking in neutral London English tones.

“I got the sense that ‘men are men’ in South Africa” – this time Bloom is speaking a familiar Souf Effriken eksent and I’m struggling not to giggle. It’s almost like a stereotype of the macho man – lots of machismo.

Turns out Bloom also spent some time with South African policemen. “From what I gleaned it is a thankless task,” he says drily.

The story he created in his head about the Brian character he plays in City of Violence was that his father would have been Afrikaans and the mother English.

“When I spent time in Cape Town, I thought about why this character behaved liked he did. He has an ex-wife and a dysfunctional relationship with his son.

“I spoke to (director) Jerome (Salle). To be a cop in South Africa... I would be drinking, I’d be self-medicating just to get through the day. Brian, at his core, is an honourable man who wants to do the right thing, be a good foot soldier. But he’s a mess. Conflicted. Angry. With a dysfunctional relationship with his father.

“Every now and then in the film you will see Brian take a nip out of a bottle of Klipdrift, conveniently hidden in jacket pocket. The Klippies was something that would help him through the day. All of that leads to this disconnected, dysfunctional person trying to function in a proper environment. At his core he is just a person, but outwardly he is completely useless. That’s something that a lot of people can relate to.”

Yes, Bloom got to drive the battered little yellow Ford himself: “I tried to buy it, but it was going to be a ridiculous process.”

He remembers seeing the same car while growing up in the UK: “I loved that car, it felt like it was my car, it was such a perfect car.”

Watching the film when it closed the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year made him think about how shocking audiences would find the violence quotient, but he is very curious about how people are going to respond to it:

“I think that the violence is very graphic, but it’s not glamorised in any way. It’s very true to life, the idea that life is cheap and I think that is a major issue in South Africa. It’s brutal and that brutality was very apparent in the film. It’s a very gut-wrenching feeling, that violence. A Hollywood studio movie would make the violence feel sexy or glamorous. It’s an honest film and that’s quite noble.

“It’s one of the things I responded to in the script and the story and from what Jerome said he wanted to do with the film. It was a very bold choice to make it like this.”

Bloom deems this role a phenomenal opportunity compared with lighter (though blockbuster fare) roles he is so well known for.

“This was a great opportunity to do something different and I really embraced that and felt fortunate to have the opportunity.

“I love to see films that show other cultures and landscapes and people, and I feel like, personally, I love seeing this, this movie shows South Africa in a very clear light.”

 

Violence is a drug

 

CITY OF VIOLENCE

DIRECTOR: Jérôme Salle

CAST: Orlando Bloom, Forest Whitaker, Conrad Kemp, Inge Beckmann, Tinarie van Wyk Loots, Regardt van den Bergh, Randall Majiet, Patrick Lyster, Danny Keogh, Chuma Sopotela, Thenjiwe Stemela

CLASSIFICATION: 16 DLNPV

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

RATING: ***

 

THE title should tell you quite a bit about what to expect. But among the nasty, brutal and way too familiar violence, there is a story here about two men trying to forgive and redeem themselves.

Based on Caryl Férey’s novel Zulu, the film mixes the beats of a crime thriller with character exploration to look at this idea of forgiveness, an idea South Africans are familiar with, but never really interrogate in any great measure.

All of this plays out against the backdrop of Cape Town, from the luscious lawns of Kirstenbosch to the mean streets of the Cape Flats gangland, with a detour across some dreamy beachland, for good measure.

Director Jérôme Salle has gone a long way towards establishing a feel for the less than nurturing side of the Mother City by allowing the actors swirling around the two main characters to be themselves. While characters do sometimes get into some high-minded philosophical discussions, we’ll forgive them because goodness knows we all do it when we get too deep into our beer bottles.

The cinematography allows for the huge vistas of cityscapes and gorgeous nature scenes, especially at the end, when we enter desert country.

The two men, Ali Sokhela (Whitaker) and Brian Epkeen (Bloom, pictured), are policemen investigating a murder and uncovering a drug conspiracy plot made all the more weird by its real-world possibilities.

While the two could not be more different, they are united by their work and a grudging, largely unacknowledged but hard-fought-for mutual respect. Sokhela is a man out of place, a Zulu with impeccable manners in a province dominated by Xhosas. A constant visual refrain throughout the film is of Sokhela running, either on a treadmill or in his dreams, in which he is a child in KwaZulu-Natal and running away during a riot. The film is bookended by the imagery, and constantly returning to the idea of forgiveness which dominates how Sokhela looks at himself.

In the beginning of the story, Sokhela is painted as a man who has forgiven what was done to him under a previous dispensation, working with his previous oppressors and/or enemies, but as his investigation progresses and the crimes touch his life personally, he struggles with the idea of not taking revenge, of really living out this idea of forgive and forget.

Whitaker does such a good job of establishing this gentle guy with high moral principles that the eventual ending comes out of left field and doesn’t quite gel with everything that went before.

While the Epkeen character could so easily have come across as a caricature – washed-up cop, alcoholic, with a very messed up relationship with his ex-wife and son – Bloom manages to keep it real. Despite wanting to not care, Epkeen does as he gets caught up in the investigation. But this guy has some serious anger-management issues and it would have been more useful to see him on the job more and less of him haranguing his family.

Luckily, his immediate superior (Sokhela) trusts his instincts and keeps Epkeen on the job, so the investigations continue.

At a film-festival screening, an earlier reviewer praised the characterisation, but felt the film descended too quickly into the visual vocabulary of brutality and casual violence. It does contain a high quotient of in-your-face, ugly violence, but nothing the average Capetonian not living in the city bowl or fancy suburbs won’t have either experienced or read about in The Voice.

Barring some extra fast police lab work, the plot feels surreal enough to be real because the way the characters respond is very familiar and this makes the film work.

By the way, the title got changed from Zulu because the producers wanted to draw the distinction between the pirated DVD surreptitiously available around the country and this, the real deal.

 

If you liked Jerusalema, you will enjoy this.