An illicit affair between an introverted high school teacher and his pupil spirals out of control, in this controversial South African-set noir directed by Jahmil X.T. Qubeka. Controversially banned then unbanned by the South African government in 2013, Jahmil Qubeka’s second feature is a consummate tribute to classic film noir, albeit an irreverent and thoroughly South African rendition of the genre. Schoolteacher Parker Sithole (Mothusi Magano) has arrived in a rural South African township with no local connections, but his unassuming disposition inspires trust and sympathy, and he comes “of good report”: with a glowing recommendation from his previous employer.
He promptly begins an illicit affair with one of his new pupils, sixteen-year-old Nolitha (Petronella Tshuma). It proves to be a disastrous development for both. Set in a township that reeks of the economically precarious working poor’s despair, Of Good Report dives into the rarely visited moral worlds of these impoverished black communities, burrowing into their dark recesses and exploring their complex social webs. In a place that the State has turned away from, a place rife with vice, greed, loneliness, and the fear of sinking further into poverty, a man can get away with anything — including a gruesome murder. Sithole, who by official record and outward behaviour embodies the “good” citizen — grandson, educator, potential husband — is in reality a psychopath.
The film grants him neither mercy nor salvation, refraining from drawing into psychological analysis to paint him as a victim. Superbly filmed in black and white, Of Good Report takes us well out of our comfort zones with the boldness of an artistic and political maverick. Audiences should be forewarned: the film’s depictions of Sithole’s crimes and their aftermath is heavy viewing that may disturb even seasoned cinema-goers, and is bound to jolt and to challenge usually complacent representations of South African — and universal — morality.