MOVIE REVIEW: Alison
DIRECTOR: Uga Carlini
CAST: Alison Botha, Christia Visser, Zak Hendrikz, De Klerk Oelofse, Francois Maree
CLASSIFICATION: 13 SV V
RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes
RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)
A HYBRID documentary because of the way it incorporates traditional documentary and fiction film making techniques, Alison does not shy away from its source material.
Neither does it get mired in it, telling the story of how Alison Botha survived a horrific rape attack and became an inspirational motivational speaker. Raped, disembowelled and left for dead, she refused to let her attackers have the last word and became the hero she needed to be.The documentary recreates the assault using actors, but then combines the re-enactments with matter-of-fact interviews with original participants, like one of the doctors who stitch her up, or the policeman who investigated her case.
Combining old footage with new interviews, the documentary reminds you of the news story, but then also takes you behind the scenes to what people were thinking at the time.Then it takes Alison’s story further by delving into her career as a motivational speaker with her frank assessment of how the attack changed her, but also how she has not let it define her.The film has a heavy fairy tale aesthetic because of the way the narrative is framed as a once-upon-a-time story. People are introduced as archetypes, like the magician, the protector, or the villain and images are embroidered with fantastical imagery, like flying butterflies or gilded frames.
This particular conceit is director Uga Carlini’s choice – this is how she tells stories. But, it also ties into the idea of how we mythologise news events, turning them into stories with coherent narratives rather than random acts of violence or actual inexplicable events that happen to real people.Alison has turned what she went through into a story she can use to hopefully change how other people live their lives – her message is that everyone has the potential to be the hero they need to be.
So, too, this documentary is also about creating stories to make sense of the world – and the power of fairy tales to affect behaviour change. The hybrid film technique reminds you that the film maker is deliberately playing around with your sense of understanding, but this only serves to underscore the importance of controlling your own narrative, rather than having it hijacked by outsiders who affected your behaviour.
The documentary is frank and chilling. Yet, it is also surprisingly warm and inspirational. It is not about the attack, it is about Alison the person and and how she went on with the life, and how she tries to help other people do the same.On the downside, it is a tough ask, getting people to watch this means reliving your own trauma. After all, South African rape statistics say one in three.
If you liked Tess or Modder en Bloed, you might enjoy this film.