It probably didn’t help that I was getting over being ill and feeling frustrated that I was still not 100% when I sat down to watch Sink. Emotions of the kind stirred up by pain meds and the helplessness that comes along with having the flu were hovering below the surface as I settled in to watch the film, although I didn’t realise just how much so until I got to the final act of this superb and moving drama about loss and forgiveness.
I didn’t want to know too much about the film going in, other than it being South African director/writer Brett Michael Innes’s debut feature film. Innes wrote the novel Rachel Weeping, upon which the film is based. It’s the story of one woman’s loss, an accidental but deeply tragic one, as another woman in her life experiences a gain, and while it’s set in Johannesburg, South Africa, it would certainly resonate across in any country, for the feelings it stirs within those watching it.
Rachel, played by Shoki Mokgapa, is a woman from Mozambique who works for young couple, cleaning their house. The film opens with the couple (Anel Alexander and Jacques Bessenger) sitting across from Rachel, confirming with her that she does indeed want to return working for them again. We get the sense it’s not entirely of her free will to do, and it’s clear something very terrible happened. If you read the synopsis of the story, you’ll know immediately what that was. But whatever your knowledge of the plot, the tension between the two time phases of the story – before and after the tragic event, deftly alternate as the film unfolds, drawing you more and more into the story. It starts a little slow to get going, but that seems deliberate, as you are immersed in the domesticity of the story, and the every-day-ness of it.
By the time it reaches its conclusion, the tears, or at least the empathy evoked from the filmmaker about the sheer tragedy and sadness of the situation is brought to the fore – through careful direction, music (by the excellent Chris Letcher) and scene-setting in a muted palate of colours. Although it is indeed a sad story, the way it plays out and the actions taken by Rachel show the remarkable way humans can surprise us.
That it is set within South Africa means the film takes the opportunity to touch on some of the textures that make this country what it is at present – the class divide, racial differences, the experience of some immigrants. The couple each has their flaws, and their redeeming qualities – but Rachel too is shown in shades of grey. At the heart of the story though, is how we respond when things happen beyond our control, and then on the flipside, what we do when we have the capacity to make a decision and choose to act or not. Sink is a remarkable film that will take a while to settle, and that’s a good thing. One thing did bother me at the end, but it would ruin the film if I were to go into detail about it, suffice to say, if you’re drawn into the story, you’ll notice it but it won’t change the experience you have of the film.
It’s notched up four awards at the Afrikaans-film festival Silwerskerm late last year; here’s hoping it finds an international audience too.
Sink is currently on the big screen in South Africa, and will travel to the Atlanta Film Festival in April.