Max and Mona, confronting death

Interview with Teddy Mattera, by Olivier Barlet

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You have a new and different approach from the films we have seen coming out of South Africa, less Holywoodian and more « decalé » as we would say in French. What is it that you are trying say in the film ?
Primarily what I’m trying to say is that only by confronting death, do you come to terms with your own mortality, and because you come to terms with your own mortality, you recognise the humanity in other people. The comedy is important, because you can see the universality of laughter in everyone else. My attempt is to humanise our society a little but by using comedy.
Why did you choose a film which deals with your obsession about death, as your first long feature film ?
It was very risky, I guess, but I looked at « Four Weddings and a Funeral » and I’d never thought about it until someone said to me that « This is four funerals and a wedding » because there is a woman that gets married at the end, but if you take that film and mine together, you see them both as having a classic structure of dramaturgy, where the inversion of one genre becomes the epitome of another. What fascinates me is that there’s so much negative talk about South Africa : crime, killing and dying of AIDS, that people on the outside must think that we’re grim, but we probably laugh more than anybody else laughs in the world. People who come from an oppressed society find a way to make laughter like their dessert. Laughter is like the dessert of life : you may not get it everyday, but when you do it had better be good ! So using comedy in funerals is the dessert of that scenario.
So it’s a real example of what happens in a society when people are confronted by Death ?
Yes absolutely.
What did you want to portray in the relationship between Max the man and Mona the goat ?
I think God is the greatest comedian and we are too blind to see the comedy that our Creator has tried to give us. What I was trying to do was to make something sacred, funny, so people can look at their image of God as comical and not the image of one who strikes you down if you don’t do as He says. And He says, « I’m going make you fall a little bit and laugh a little bit, because I’m fed up with you because you’re always sad. » Unconsciously that was the attempt to bring people to another understanding of what is sacred, because laughter is a sacred attribute of our lives and without it we’d be dead a lot sooner. Comedy has the best ability to deal with pain. When they understand that this animal is sacred they respect it.
No, I think in fact that there’s a lot and that’s what kept us alive during apartheid. Faith and the desire to be free kept us going. It took so long !
Would you say that there’s a lack of spirituality today in South Africa ?
ironic that we have the oldest liberation organisation on the continent, but we only got our freedom ten years ago ! Some people have been free since 1959 !
Was it difficult to raise the finance for your film ?
Yes it took me 5-7 years to realise it, from the idea to the script. It was dumped for two years and then got picked up again by the executive producer. Like Max : the story of the script is the story of the film !
Did you benefit from the new system in South Africa ?
Yes we have an incredible partnership between the banks, the government, the production companies, and the broadcaster. I think we’re going to see a lot more films over the next ten years. We’ve already produced 12 feature films in one year. On the world stage we have a film that won the Golden Bear, another that was nominated for an Oscar. I think in the next five years the generation after me are going to be able to compete. Last year my film was rejected by Cannes and I was furious against the French, but then when I thought about it, I realised that it’s important to be recognised by your own people first.
For the casting : They are all South Africans. Were they people you knew ?
Yes, some of them have strong South African accents, but I just took my time. I interviewed forty people to get Max, an hour for each audition. I think I chose this character right : he’s got a kind of Cary Grant feel to him at the same as being kind of timid. His Uncle Norman is great : he’s a central character as well, he’s just brilliant.
Do you have any projects ?
Yes, I have two projects. One in the same kind of style. It’s about Heaven : it’s about a guy who dies and goes to Heaven. It’s about a preacher who’s a con man and creates miracles, but he gets found out. In fact he gets conned by another con man that strips him of all the money he’s made. This man has been killed and the « preacher » is determined to follow him to Heaven to get his money. The people he leaves behind keep trying to pull him back by visiting traditional healers. So there’s a struggle between Heaven and Earth. It’s about Death and Redemption. The other is a very serious script on the life of a boxer : a South African called Cameroon Kangaroo Adams who was my idol when I was 5/7 years old. He was a major catalyst in the gangster society, Lebanese and Jewish in Johannesburg. It’s an intense story about male sexuality and identity, because he was of mixed blood.

///Article N° : 5739


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