Horrors of Apartheid Come to Life in Good Madam (FANTASTIC)
Title: Good Madam
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Jenna Cato Bass
Writer: Babalwa Baartman, Jenna Cato Bass, Chumisa Cosa
Runtime: 92 Minutes
Starring: Chumisa Cosa, Nosipho Mtebe, Kamvalethu Jonas Raziya
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Fantastic Film Festival 2021.
Tsidi (Chumisa Cosa) seeks refuge with her mother, Mavis (Nosipho Mtebe), after an argument with other family members at her grandmother’s wake. Once back at the place she grew up, she finds herself falling into old patterns with her mother and watching as others fall with her. The longer they stay, Tsidi’s nightmares grow increasingly more hostile and disturbing and her curiosity of the state of the house’s owner, Diane (Jennifer Boraine), increases. She will soon find out the truth as to why Diane and her family have such close relationships with their staff. Good Madam showcases just what happens when exploitation continues in unexpected and terrifying ways.
Good Madam is a quiet psychological horror that unsettles while it deconstructs the effects of Apartheid.
An allegory for race relations in South Africa following Apartheid, Good Madam chooses to focus its energy on the aftereffects of that integral part of South Africa’s history. Many aspects of the film support this narrative by adding to the terror or disorientation of the viewer. Scene intercuts of Tsidi’s past, and her present, are juxtaposed with current reminders of apartheid, most notably the difference between where Black South Africans live and where white South Africans live. The sounds of housework are used themselves as part of the terror of the house. By ratcheting up the sound and pairing them with hallucinations.
Strong character choices help push Good Madam along despite the story dragging. Making Diane behave more of a specter even though she is very clearly alive is a nice continuation of the metaphor of the film. Speaking of which, the continual straining of the relationship between Tsidi and her mother returns to this same idea. Mavis represents a view of subservience and resignation to older social structures. Tsidi embraces the present and embodies a love for freedom, not only from racial segregation but also expected gender roles. With that being said, I do wish that more was said about Tsidi and her former partner Luthando’s (Khanyiso Kenqa) relationship to explain why Tsidi must stay with her mother.
More could be done to viscerally affect the audience but the implied horrors of the fates potentially befalling the protagonists in Good Madam are enough to make anyone cringe in fear. Everyone does well here, but Cosa and Mtebe play off each other the best. Despite constant bickering their love for each other shines through in genuine and often underappreciated ways. Good Madam even flips the head of one trope that typically befalls Black women and mysticism. There are also nice moments where we discuss the ways grief can impact families, but they aren’t the primary focus here. It’s full of good ideas even if it doesn’t juggle them well.
I appreciate the eeriness the paranoia that permeates through the picture, Good Madam just doesn’t give enough to be compelling. It is methodically slow to a fault and is edited to hell bringing in dream sequences, hallucinations, and flashbacks to remove all sense of sense from the story. The film’s third act comes and goes unceremoniously. By the end, the audience feels deflated and confused as to why the events unfold in that manner rather than relieved that the horror is finally over for our heroes.
While it is definitely not the most bombastic film of the year, Good Madam chooses to build suspense up until it’s disturbing finale. Full of solid performances, good writing and plenty of chills, it’s one international selection to keep an eye out for once it makes its way to the States. I did feel myself wanting more from the film, as there is plenty more to go on with its unique premise. I also feel that some subplots could use more meat to them to create a more complete experience for viewers. This film won’t be easy to scrub from your mind after watching, so add it to your watchlist if you seek adequate international horror offerings.
Overall Score? 5.5/10