boesman & lena(2001)
director: john barry
angela bassett, danny glover

. Boesman & Lena is based on a play by Athol Fugard, though it would be more accurate to say that it’s really based on Samuel Beckett’s classic existential vaudeville, Waiting for Godot. The landscape -- blasted and bleak, studded with stunted, leafless trees -- should be the tip-off, but the arrival of the two title characters, a tragic, bickering couple seemingly stuck together despite their mutual misery, makes the eerie similarity complete.

Godot, like most of Beckett’s plays, is famously unfilmable, except in the occasional, very arty rock video. Likewise, Boesman & Lena is very much a theatrical play, pumped up yet diminished by its transplant from the unreal boundaries of the stage to the cinematic “real world”. As Angela Bassett and Danny Glover circle each other, spitting out contempt and wildly hinting at their unhappy history, the average viewer might wish for a handy volume knob, some way to tone down the vast quantities of acting required by Fugard’s script.

Glover and Bassett play a “coloured” couple in apartheid South Africa, driven from their shantytown to seek shelter on a desolate riverbank, a new low in their miserable descent, though the inference is that apartheid has probably only accelerated the decay of their relationship. When they meet a dying Xhosa tribesman who Lena “adopts” for company, the brutality of their racist society is underlined as Boesman treats him with the abuse he expects from whites, while Lena basically regards the man as little more than a pet, a replacement for her lost dog. The overall point is neither original nor subtle, though it might have been helped by more subtle direction from the late John Berry, or a script that treated Fugard’s play with a bit less reverence.