Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Parly's alright

Over the last few weeks I've had the fantastic opportunity of working in Parliament for an NGO (part time) and, having sat in on a handful of meetings, I must express that I am surprised at the acuity, insight and commitment shown by our indirectly elected officials. This is something that I feel needs to be said. On a typical day in suburbia you get so used to the administration-bashing that you expect, at best, that there's a secret bordello lurking behind the black gates of Parliament *dum dum dum*...

While the MPs do wear pressed suits and drive silver Mercs, their attitudes could not be more humbled, for the most part they both do their work and kid around. Not kid around in the vein of Office manager David Brent (bi' of an obscure reference wot?). What I mean is: they take their work seriously but not themselves and that's novel for people wielding that much influence. I managed to approach several MPs and extract documents/information from them. Most met me with a smile and an unfunny, but well-intentioned, quip.

The meetings themselves are conducted in an ordered fashion, this I wasn't surprised at. I've seen some of the Parliament TV (speaker! speaker!) and there is not much tolerance for speaking out of turn. Contrary to what we are sometimes led to believe, ANC MPs do not toe-the-line while opposition parties rant and rave. Some time ago I read Andrew Feinstein's "After the Party" where he noted how there was a tendency among party MPs to not object to the government policy - he found it strange and now I see why. I saw none of that particular acquiescence in my sittings. The ANC members are as vigorously critical of policy as the opposition, sometimes more so. Most importantly, all parties place first the concerns of the everyman into question. The specifics would bore you to death but I was concerned with budget issues of late and, for example, the question of business and corporate concession was foremost in the concerns raised by the members. They would not see benefits granted without details on how this benefit trickled down to the workforce. Bravo I say.

And they are sharp as tacks to boot. I was overwhelmed taking on the challenge of trying to prepare critical questions of my own while paying attention to the presentations. They had more time to prepare than I had but still... I'd wager I haven't met an MP as dumb as I felt sitting in those meetings.

To be fair, it isn't all rosy, of course it isn't. There's an air of rhetoric to many of the processes “must investigate...” “will take further...” “should implement...” and the like. You also get the feeling that the business of government is very slow with all the delayed actions and interdepartmental references. I've arrived to find meetings cancelled quite abruptly. I've gone to presentations where departments have not pitched up. I've been to a presentation where the department was not properly prepared. In that instance though it was pleasant to have the chairperson dole out what-for on the unprepared party... or person rather, party is ambiguous in this context. People will let you down, occasionally but its far from the incompetent we're sometimes let to believe by the talk round the water cooler.

And again, I just thought I'd share that.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Small thoughts on 'Happy-Go-Lucky'

So I had the distinct pleasure of watching 'Happy-Go-Lucky' yesterday and all I can say is... Sally Hawkins was robbed! I cannot believe that such a nuanced (yet altogether pithy) performance was missed by the Academy. On the whole it's a well structured film and, we can take some solace in this, received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, which I would be happy to see Mike Leigh walk away with. I mean, if Diablo Cody could get one....

For those not in the loop, Happy-Go-Lucky is a film that falls within the parameters of social observation... I think... I'm not a film student, the correct jargon is not at my disposal. Anyway, it's the kind of film that introduces a (pseudo) novel concept to an ordinary situation and attempts to find what develops organically. Our concept in this film is Poppy, an irrepressible 30-year old preschool teacher. She seems to be in a permanent state of joviality regardless of the gravity of a given situation. She is robbed, she has to cope with an abusive pupil, and an even more abusive driving instructor. We see the ways in which her particular brand of extroversion affects those around her, sometimes negatively, sometimes positively. More pertinently, it is a reflection on the dispositions of others when we encounter a friendly face. Do we seek do repress it? Do we reciprocate? Do we ignore it? Can we even understand it anymore?

And Hawkins carries the entire film, the camera is fixated on her for, easily, 90% of the running time. Its a weighty demand, even for a lead, and she's infallible. Poppy is an eccentric character with flighty quirks and phrasing. I once sat in on a conversation between some of SA's more esteemed critics: Barry Ronge, Leon van Nierop, ... that guy who I always confuse with Leon van Nierop... and they mused that the particularly eccentric characters were easier to pull off – they were talking about Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker (which I also take issue with, but another time) – but I think it depends on how the eccentricity is carried out. Poppy is consistently irrepressible, yes, but when she finds herself in an unsafe situation, she visibly clutches her handbag to her chest and murmurs to herself. When she finds herself attracted to someone, her head bows and her voice trails. When she does find herself pulled into a confrontation, the smiling stops but the her message remains intact. That's really as much as I can say without spoiling it. Poppy is always a real character, the thing that makes her unique is we see her actively make the choice to be spirited and lively.

Eddie Marsan deserves a special mention for his turn as Poppy's racist, misogynistic, paranoid and altogether sociopathic driving instructor – a well-crafted foil to the exuberant Poppy, superbly executed by the actor.

So that's just something I thought I'd share, I felt like spoiling some virtual paper today, take it or leave it. I wouldn't recommend this film to most of my friends but if it sounds like your cuppa, you wont be disappointed. There are some incredible (looking) films opening within the next fortnight. Personally I cannot wait for The Wrestler, Slumdog Millionaire (especially), Changeling and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Let the good times roll!

PS. I don't mean to rag on Diablo Cody, I loved Juno. I just think if Juno was good enough this one should be too.