Meisies Wat Fluit (Girls That Whistle) teases out a “friends with benefits” relationship within the dynamic of a couple who married too young. Taking a fly-on-the-wall approach to modern relationships, dating and marriage, we get a thoughtful dramatic cross-section of the couple’s insecurities and compulsions. Henk and Sofia fell in love too soon, got married and separated too soon. Struggling to find a suitable partner on the dating scene, their attempts to branch out in other directions and start new chapters fail miserably as they fall into each other’s arms again.
Having written and directed Wonderlus, Johan Cronje has shown his remarkable ability to craft films that sparkle with spontaneity, revel in coming-of-age cool and are carried forth by committed performances. Wonderlus showed a marked maturity for a South African drama, taking a The Big Chill approach following the fall out of a wedding. An ensemble drama, it had an unusual realism for local films, which are often naive when it comes to building characters and worlds. Cronje’s reinforced this trademark style in Meisies Wat Fluit, a romance drama bold in its independent spirit and anything-goes freedom. It’s a real achievement for the filmmaker and inspiration for others, demonstrating how much can be done with such a modest budget.
Stiaan Smith and Leandie du Randt demonstrated their on-screen chemistry in the short film Gebles, a bittersweet comedy about a young man struggling to overcome self esteem issues around balding. Fire and ice, the co-leads transpose this chemistry into Cronje’s feature-length romance drama, giving him the opportunity to explore their raw magnetism and cycle of attraction and repulsion. It’s as if the film was written with du Randt in mind, a vehicle to showcase her range of performance within the genre, tapping into some real emotion. Smith is so offhandedly charming that it’s difficult to hate him, turning in another fine performance and offsetting du Randt’s fireworks with a more cool-headed approach. They headline a fine ensemble with some good supporting performances from Geon Nel, Amalia Uys and Bennie Fourie.
“Your pick up lines make me want to down-down.”
The film moves from swanky bars to apartment living and features some steamy scenes, which are surprisingly unusual for local films. It’s strange to see a mainstream Afrikaans romance drama with nudity or even sex scenes, which are usually reserved for camp comedy romps. Thankfully these are handled with a level of restraint and respect, playing into the ebb-and-flow of the moment rather than tripping into pure gratuity. Maximising these locations, gives Meisies Wat Fluit an inner city feel, branching out to the suburbs to contrast lifestyles.
The music deserves a special mention, following through from the Wonderlus soundtrack with an equally effective, modern and sultry sound. These silky choices are underscored by the subtle and nuanced approach to the drama and cinematography. While there’s a finesse at play, this is offset by its shaggy handling in terms of coarse language and offbeat comedy. Siphoning the air of naïveté associated with many South African productions, Meisies Wat Fluit is a progressive drama that offers sharp dialogue that can become quite prickly.
These aspects help give Meisies Wat Fluit a raw ugly/beautiful texture, which may resonate with some and eject others. Counterbalancing this element are dashes of laugh-out-loud thirty-something comedy. In much the same way as the central relationship, there are things about the film that will attract and repel, giving it an alluring yet fractious quality. There’s much to appreciate in terms of the film-making, risks and pay-offs, showing a bold and exciting new direction for local drama. It’s a wonderful effort under the circumstances, yet its restrained by the same energy driving the central couple. It seems that friends with benefits arrangements are just as problematic as the films that try to bring them to life.
The bottom line: Compelling