"Ellen, The Ellen Pakkies Story"
Director: Daryne JoshuaJill
Cast: Jill Levenberg, Jarrid Geduld, Clint Brink, Elton Landrew, Ilse Brink
Rating: 4 and a half stars
During a recent preview of the movie, Ellen Pakkies was present and came on stage prior to the screening. As she left just before the film started, there were tears streaming down her face and it amply resonated through the audience that her pain, at having been involved in the filming and having seen herself portrayed on screen, must be indescribable.
"Ellen, The Ellen Pakkies Story" has already won big internationally and locally, garnering three top awards at the recent annual kykNET Silwerskerm Festival: Best Actress for Jill Levenberg portraying Ellen, Best Actor for Jarrid Geduld as her troubled son Abie Pakkies; and for scriptwriter Amy Jephta with Best Script Award.
After all the publicity surrounding the film, it was interesting to see how it actually unfolded on-screen. It would be an understatement to say that after being gripped for two hours, I don't think there were many dry eyes in the visibly moved audience.
Ellen Pakkies, for those not in the know, strangled her drug-addicted son in 2007 after years of suffering his abuse and violence.
One of the elements I was not expecting to be delved into so deeply, and which make it all the more tragic, was the awful cycle of abuse that Pakkies underwent way back in her life as a small girl.
Scenes move back and forth from her court case to her harrowing time with her son and prior to that flashbacks of a non-childhood. As her mother lies supine on a soiled bed, in a drunken stupor, the young Ellen is abused by one after the other of her mother's multiple lovers present in her fledgeling years.
The film depicts how Pakkies carries the onerous weight on her shoulders of a life with few expectations; of such extreme hardship. Levenberg plays it superbly. For the duration of the film she IS the long-suffering Pakkies - and the fact that the movie is filmed in Dover Court, Lavender Hill, on the Cape Flats where Pakkies still lives today, makes it even the more immediate.
The facts speak for themselves - shot in situ we see the camera sweeping down the street where she lives - the drab look-alike flats with make-shift fences; mangy dogs wandering around; hardened youths; littered fields and harsh expanses of bare ground; street corners where the unemployed hang around, pulling on cigarettes or weed; drugs changing hands.
One can almost sense the gloom of another hopeless morning as kids leave their homes to go to school; the way fear stalks as the day darkens and an isolated walk that Abie takes across littered fields. The family home is shown as a place of little respite - a cramped kitchen, outside toilet - there are scenes of heart-rending poignancy as the camera focuses on carefully collected family mementoes - doilies; vases; dishes on a dresser.
Jarrid Geduld plays Abie masterfully as a sometimes manipulative son pulling at his mother's heartstrings; alternating as a fearful young man who spirals quickly downwards as his dependence on drugs grows; desperate and ready to deplete and wreck his family's extremely modest home for his next fix. As a violent drug-crazed individual who will stop at nothing to show his frustration and anger.
It's after one of these awful scenes that Pakkies takes the final stand. She calmly twines a rope around her son as he awakens from yet another drug-induced deep sleep and he begs her to stop. But disassociated, she proceeds with the fatal deed.
Her testimony in court as to how she tried everything she could to help her son won her an acquittal of the crime. The court scene is another of those remarkable portrayals that shows how well the story and the way it was translated on screen speaks for itself.
It's often easy in a story of this nature to let emotions get in the way of critical appraisal but in this instance, every bit of praise is well deserved. This is a film that should have surfaced years ago to tell a story and an ongoing tragedy that unfolds far more often than not in our blighted society.